Coach Engin Firat: Why we chose Malawi for Harambee Stars’ home ties

Harambee Stars
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Photo credit: Sila Kiplagat | Nation Media Group

Harambee Stars coach Engin Firat has said the team’s recent impressive performance at Bingu National Stadium in Lilongwe was what influenced the decision to take Kenya's two upcoming home Group “F” World Cup qualifiers to the Malawian venue.

Stars are scheduled to host Burundi on June 7 before welcoming reigning African champions Côte d’Ivoire on June 11 in the southern African nation.

Football Kenya Federation (FKF) were forced to seek an alternative venue for the World Cup qualifiers, owing to the lack of a stadium that meets Fifa standards in Kenya.

Addressing the press yesterday at Police Sacco Stadium in Nairobi, Firat said they settled on Bingu National Stadium following the Stars' triumph in the Four Nation tournament held at the venue in March.

Kenya hammered Malawi 4-0 before thumping Zimbabwe 3-1 in the final to win the friendly tournament on Match 26.

He added that the team’s familiarity with the facilities in Lilongwe and the hospitality of the Malawians also led to their decision to play the matches in Lilongwe.

Good memories

“We have some positive impact there and good memories about Malawi. We know the stadium and training fields plus the people there were kind to us. They hosted us very well,” said Firat.

He said they did not go for the Benjamin Mkapa Stadium in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania since the Tanzania national team will be hosting their home matches at the facility while Burundi also enjoys a big fan base in that country.

Firat said they did consider the Mandela National Stadium in Uganda since it received late approval to host international matches.

Firat said that while playing their home matches in a foreign country was a big disadvantage, they would strive to register a positive result.

“The reality in the football world is that no team has ever been successful by playing all the time away. You need the home support and the feeling that you are at home. All this is missing for us, making the job more difficult for us but we will try to do our best,” said the Turk.

He warned that Kenyan football will never progress if there are no proper football infrastructures in the country.

Two matches

Firat said that he will travel for the two matches with a maximum of 25 players. The team is expected to jet out of the country on June 2 with foreign-based striker Michael Olunga, midfielder Richard Odada, and defender Daniel Anyembe linking up with their national mates in Malawi.

The Stars coach said that he could miss the services of five players due to injury and passport issues. While defender Joseph Okumu is expected to join the camp today, Firat said he is a serious doubt.

He was also not sure if defender Eric Ouma would be available for the match since he is also injured.

But he said he has a big pool to choose players from.

“When I started, it was very simple for me to name 24 players but now I have a headache to be honest. We have created so many players that I will have problems leaving some players out which was not my intention,” he said.

Gabon, Gambia, and Seychelles are the other teams in Group “F”.

Kenya lie third in the group with one win and one loss. They lost 2-1 to Gabon before routing Seychelles 5-0 in November.