Brave Harambee Stars hold African champions Ivory Coast to a goalless draw

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Harambee Stars is now third in Group F with five points from four matches

Harambee Stars bravely held African champions Ivory Coast to a 0-0 draw in a 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifier match in Lilongwe, Malawi.

Harambee Stars, hosting the match in Malawi because the country lacks a stadium that is up to CAF and FIFA standards, had good chances to snatch the three points. Michael Olunga had a shot blocked on the line in the 71st minute, and another one was saved by Yahia Fofana in the 82nd minute.

In a match punctuated with long spells of neither team mustering a shot on target, Patrick Matasi had nothing much to do in the game other than stop a freekick in first-half stoppage time.

Ivory Coast hit the crossbar in the 84th minute through Oumar Diakite, and that was the closest the three-time AFCON champions came to scoring, as Kenya held on to avoid defeat for only the fourth time in 19 matches they've played against a reigning African champion.


Following their 1-1 draw with Burundi in the Matchday 3 fixtures on Friday, Harambee Stars were in dire need of a robust response. A 0-0 draw against the African champions, who have maintained a 100% record in these qualifiers up to this point, could serve as a valuable point and likely serve as a fitting birthday present for Harambee Stars coach Engin Firat.

The result leaves Kenya third in the group, with five points from four matches. Kenya has enough time to prepare for the next phase of the qualifiers, which do not take place until March 2025.

Harambee Stars coach Engin Firat made one change to the team's starting line-up that drew 1-1 with Burundi.

Alphonce Omija, an Oman-based defender, replaced Kenya Police winger Clifton Miheso in the starting XI, a move by the Turkish coach that earned the Dhofar FC defender his full debut for the national team.

Omija slotted into the back four, protecting goalkeeper Patrick Matasi, which also comprised Daniel Anyembe, Johnstone Omurwa, and Abud Omar.

Timothy Ouma pushed Rooney Onyango forward to cover the flanks while Anthony Akumu and Richard Odada screened the defence.

Kenneth Muguna shouldered the team's creative responsibilities in attacking midfield, playing behind lone striker and captain Michael Olunga.

The match had a rather slow start, with neither team threatening at all in the first quarter of the contest.

The entire team sat deep to absorb the pressure from the Ivorians, intercepting their attempts to open up the Harambee Stars defence with forward passes through the channels, demonstrating the effectiveness of Kenya's cautious approach.

During those dull opening minutes, Harambee Stars showed great composure as they confoundingly passed the ball around in their defending third, inviting a press from the Ivorians, before transitioning to attack with long balls or passes through the midfield.

Unfortunately, with Olunga isolated upfront, these early attempts to make an impression did not yield fruit, and even when the Harambee Stars carried the ball forward, the lack of ideas as they entered the attacking third helped the African champions recover possession easily.

However, the game came to life in the 23rd minute when a long-range effort by Seko Fofana, which looped narrowly over the crossbar, diffused the boredom of that opening quarter.

It was the first shot after the match, and after that, both teams made more serious attempts to score as the game's pace increased.

Kenya had a shot on target from a freekick, and Michael Olunga had another off-target attempt from long range.

Ivory Coast also threatened with two long-range shots that went wide, efforts that served as evidence of their impatience at failing to crack open the Harambee Stars defence.

Ivory Coast nearly opened the score in the first half with a freekick just outside the box in the left half space, but Patrick Matasi equalized it by punching the ball out of play for a corner, which Moroccan referee Jalal Jayed was not patient enough to see taken as he blew the halftime whistle.

In the 50th minute, Ivory Coast fired the first warning shot of the second half. Jeremy Boga bombed down from the left channel, skipping past Harambee Stars players, but his cutback to Lazare Amani found the Royal Union midfielder facing away from goal, forcing him to tee up Franck Kessie, whose fierce shot from the edge of the box was blocked by Alphonce Omija, who took a hard hit to the head, causing play to temporarily stop while he received treatment.

After that, play resumed and progressed with the same tempo as the opening first half; no team made a serious attempt on goal as most of the action took place in Kenya's half of the pitch.

Only a yellow card to Jeremy Boga in the 53rd minute, some fruitless corners, and substitutions interrupted play during this edgy and nervous phase as tackles flew, players got bodied off the ball, crosses got cleared, passes intercepted to stop promising attacks, and heart-stopping open misses were witnessed.

All along, Kenya waited to attack on the counter, but when such opportunities arose, they failed to capitalize, as demonstrated by the poor execution of the final pass, raising doubts about the composure of the Harambee Stars' players.

In the 71st minute, Harambee Stars got their best chance of the game from a counterattack as Michael Olunga chased a ball on the left channel before looping a pass to Timothy Ouma. Ouma's initial touch successfully brought the ball down, but his subsequent attempt to set himself up for a shot was sloppy, allowing Ivorian goalkeeper Yahia Fofana to rush his line and palm the ball off his feet. Duke Abuya then collected the rebound and passed the ball to Olunga, whose shot cleared off the line for a corner.

Ivory Coast cleared the corner, giving Kenya another opportunity to score, but Yahia Fofana easily stopped Timothy Ouma's shot that followed the clearance.

In the 82nd minute, Olunga, desperate to make amends, chased down a long ball into the Ivorian box, and while under pressure from a defender, he managed to sneak a shot that almost squirmed past Fofana.

In response to Olunga's attempt, Ivory Coast hit the crossbar in the 84th minute, as substitute Oumar Diakite nearly scored from a cutback.

That attempt set up the match for a nervy end as Kenyans defended resolutely to thwart a desperate Ivory Coast, who were pressing for a winner. However, there was to be no meaningful attack as the match ended goalless, with Harambee Stars limiting Ivory Coast to just one shot on target and ruining Michael Olunga's big miss in the 71st minute.

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