Firat labours to explain selection, Olunga says ‘suspension pain behind us’ as Stars leave for Iran

Firat labours to explain selection, Olunga says ‘suspension pain behind us’ as Stars leave for Iran

Harambee Stars coach Engin Firat watch players training session at Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani on March 25, 2023 where the team was in preparations ahead of their Friendly match against Iran on March 28, 2023. Photo Sportpicha

Harambee Stars captain Michael Olunga is not dweling on the pain the team had to endure outside international football for a year, following a Fifa suspension imposed last year, but is under no illusion reckoning that great opportunities have been lost.

While the other African countries are using the current Fifa international window to fight it out  for slots for the forthcoming Africa Cup of Nations Finals set Ivory Coast in the summer, Kenya is out of the campaign, as the qualifiers had long started when they were still serving the ban.

The suspension was imposed after former Cabinet Secretary for Sports Amina Mohammed disbanded Football Kenya Federation, against Fifa’s policy of non-interference by third parties, leaving the world football governing body with no option but to swing the axe.

 “It is always the desire of every football player to represent their country, so we would really have loved to be in the Afcon qualifiers. A lot of opportunities were lost during the suspension not only to the players but the entire football fraternity.

“We have however put the pain behind us, to focus on what is ahead of us,” said the Al Duhail striker, during their last training session on Saturday morning at the Kasarani Stadium before flying out to Tehran Sunday morning.

Squad selection

The Stars will battle the Iranians, ranked 24 by Fifa in Tuesday’s clash in Tehran and head coach Engin Firat is looking forward to exposing his players to top level football. He minced no words as he explained his team selection for the friendly.

“Some people are forgetting what kind of match we are playing, " I said the other day that their (Iran) one player has a bigger market value than all of our players. Yet, some people are talking about winning, winning and winning. Iran is a top team, and why I want to play these kinds of teams is to make my players understand what it means to play at this level; where we are and where we want to go,” he explained. “This is a match for learning purposes, to show our character, to be united as a team, and to work against a top team– this is what I am looking for,” the former Moldova national team coach added.

He also defended his decision to drop current Kenyan Premier League top scorer Benson Omalla from his squad, saying his statistics do not guarantee him a place in his setup.

“I didn’t want to talk about individual players, because the media is discussing about almost 150 players. This is a young player and needs to be given time, no pressure on him. Being a top scorer does not mean that you must be in the national team. Is last season’s top scorer in the team? What about the other season’s top scorer (Eric Kapaito), is he guaranteed? He posed.

“If I did not have confidence in any player, in the first place, he would not have been in my camp – no discussion about it...” elucidated the coach, who also says the competition in the team is higher than it was in the first stint he handled the team, just before the Fifa suspension.

Fresh talents

With Alfred Scriven and Daniel Anyembe who have been called up for the first time after playing in Europe for a long time, Firat is clear they may need time to settle in the team.

“The question is how we adapt together and to each other. For them it is coming to a new world, especially Daniel who has not been here before and has to adapt. He is more of a European-minded player, so these are things that will not just go overnight, they need time.

“I’m however happy with the progress, they are now like a family and I’m sure they will adapt,” he explained.

In the meantime, the coach has clarified that Masoud Juma is still in the squad, having passed a late fitness test. Initially, it had been reported he had been dropped alongside other seven players. His presence in the travelling squad makes for four strikers - Olunga, Juma, Elvis Rupia and Scriven.

Firat also made it clear he was forced to drop AIK (Sweden) defender Collins Shichenje due to injury.

The team jets out on Sunday 1:00am for Tehran aboard a Qatar Airways flight.


Engin Firat Harambee Stars Iran Michael Olunga Friendly

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