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Kenya Prepares to Challenge AFCON Defending Champion in World Cup Qualifiers

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Kenya Team

Kenya is looking forward to testing last season’s Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) champion Cote d’Ivoire in the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers early next month.

The East Africans will host Burundi and Cote d’Ivoire in back-to-back CAF Group F qualifiers that will be played in Lilongwe, Malawi due to the unavailability of a suitable venue to host international matches in the country.

Harambee Stars, as the team is known, are lying third in the pool behind Cote d’Ivoire and Gabon, holding three points from one victory over Seychelles and a loss to Gabon.

The East African team kicked off preparations for the next fixtures earlier this week in capital city Nairobi with Turkish head coach Engin Firat struggling with a slew of injuries to his key players.

Among the eight players missing in camp is Qatar-based star forward and captain Michael Olunga. Fortunately, he is expected to link up with the team in Lilongwe ahead of their clash against Burundi on June 7.

The team will then take on Cote d’Ivoire on June 11.

Speaking to the press in Nairobi on Thursday, Firat and forward John Avire said the team is looking forward to testing their strength against Cote d’Ivoire, who recently won their third AFCON title.

“We know Cote d’Ivoire has very good players but was missing teamwork in the past few years. But at the AFCON, they changed the coach and got united and won the tournament. This makes it difficult to play against them,” Firat said.

“With every rival, I need to find a way where I put my players’ strength on the field and how I use my powers to exploit their weaknesses,” added the coach.

Avire, who plays for Misr El Makasa in the Egyptian Premier League, said the players are buzzing ahead of the two games that will define their World Cup qualification fate as the home team.

“Cote d’Ivoire is a good team, but we also have our qualities and good players. When you are in the field, everybody is focused on themselves and if we follow the plan, we can have victory,” the striker said.

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