Shock as Firat drops Olunga in provisional Harambee Stars squad for 2026 World Cup Qualifiers

20th May 2024

Firat did not reveal any reason behind the captain's omission.

Michael Olunga. PHOTO| Courtesy
Michael Olunga. PHOTO| Courtesy
  • Olunga's name was conspicuously missing from the 25-man list.
  • Kenya will be facing Burundi and current African champions Ivory Coast on June 7 and June 11.
  • Kenya currently sits third out of six in Group F of the 2026 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, having picked up three points from the opening two matches against Gabon and Seychelles.

Harambee Stars head coach Engin Firat dropped a bombshell on Monday afternoon after it was revealed that national team captain Michael Olunga was not included in the provisional squad expected to face Burundi and Ivory Coast in the upcoming 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers in June.

In the 25-member list that Firat has released, a lot of questions were left unanswered with the head coach failing to provide any reason behind the omission of Olunga who recently scored five goals to help Harambee Starls lift the Four Nations tournament in Malawi back in March.

Apart from Olunga’s surprise omission, defensive midfielder Richard Odada was the other big name also not included in the provisional squad.

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There are five new faces in the squad including Kenya Police defender Brian Okoth who has stood out in the local league.

Additionally, the coach has summoned Tobias Knost, who plies his trade with third-tier German side SV Verl and Bruce Kamau who features for Perth Glory in Australia.

Adam Wilson, who plays for English League Two side Bradford City, has also earned a maiden national team call-up alongside former Gor Mahia combative midfielder John Ochieng.

Gor's Austine Odhiambo, who has the most assists in the FKF Premier League this season, has also earned a call-up following a fallout with Firat.

Duke Abuya and Elvis Rupia return to the fold after missing the team’s last assignments at the four-nation tournament in Malawi.

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Squad Preparation, Venue & Match Dates

The team starts preparations for the qualifiers on Tuesday, May 21 in Nairobi ahead of the match against Burundi slated for June 7 before they face reigning Africa Cup of Nations champions Ivory Coast on June 11.

Despite being the home team, Harambee Stars shall play both matches at the Bingu National Stadium in Lilongwe, Malawi with the team set to depart on June 2 tentatively.

This move has been occasioned by the unavailability of the Nyayo National Stadium and the Kasarani Stadium, the only stadiums in Kenya provisionally approved by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to host international matches.

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Both are under renovation ahead of the 2024 African Nations Championships (CHAN) and the 2027 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON), which Kenya shall jointly co-host alongside Tanzania and Uganda.

“We did our best to have a venue close to Kenya. We got in touch with the Federations of Tanzania and Uganda, but it was impossible to get a venue there because they are booked,” said FKF President Nick Mwendwa.

“Every team always wishes to play their home matches at home. This is something I would not have wanted (to play home matches away from home). Nonetheless, I am appealing to Kenyans to remain positive and support the team,” added the FKF President.

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Qualification Format

Kenya currently sits third out of six in Group F of the 2026 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, having picked up three points from the opening two matches against Gabon and Seychelles.

Only the top team in the group, which comprises Ivory Coast, Gabon, Burundi, The Gambia, Seychelles, and Kenya, will qualify for the 48-team World Cup, which will be played across 16 cities in Canada, Mexico, and the United States.

Four of the best runners-up from the nine groups will also get a lifeline in a playoff that will determine CAF’s representative in the Inter-confederation playoffs involving six teams, which will decide the last two FIFA World Cup berths.

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Provisional Squad


Patrick Matasi (Kenya Police), Byrne Odhiambo (Bandari), Boniphas Munyasa (Muranga Seal), Ian Otieno (Zesco, Zambia)


Johnstone Omurwa (Estrela, Portugal), Alphonse Omija (Dhofar-Oman), Amos Nondi (Ararat, Armenia), Brian Okoth (Kenya Police), Abud Omar (Kenya Police), Tobias Knost (SV Verl, Germany)


John Ochieng (Zanaco, Zambia), Eric Johanna (UTA, Romania), Adam Wilson (Bradford City, England), Anthony Akumu (Unattached), Kenneth Muguna (Kenya Police), Kaycie Odhiambo (AFC Leopards), Chrispine Erambo (Tusker), Rooney Onyango (Gor Mahia), Ayub Timbe (Sabail, Azeberijan), Duke Abuya (IHEFU, Tanzania), Bruce Kamau (Perth Glory, Australia)


John Avire (El Sekka El Hadid SC, Egypt), Austine Odhiambo (Gor Mahia), Benson Omala (Gor Mahia), Elvis Rupia (IHEFU, Tanzania)

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