Gabon stun Kenya in 2026 World Cup qualifier

Aboud Omar

Harambee Stars defender Aboud Omar (left) vies for the ball with midfielder Duncan Otieno during their training session at Kasarani Annex on November 11, 2023. The team is preparing for the upcoming 2026 Fifa World Cup qualifiers.

Photo credit: Pool | FKF

What you need to know:

  • Masud Juma had given Kenya a half time lead as he headed home in the 40th minute, but the Panthers improved in the second half to secure the three points in the Group "F" contest.

Kenya's Harambee Stars' quest to qualify for the 2026 Fifa World Cup started on the wrong foot as they went down 2-1 to hosts Gabon at the Stade de Franceville on Thursday.

Red Star Belgrade midfielder Guelor Kanga scored a screamer in the 88th minute to give the Panthers maximum points at home in the Group "F" duel.

Kenya scored the first goal via Masud Juma’s 40th minute header, but Gabon equalised in the 60th minute from US based midfielder Dennis Bounga's close range shot.  

The national team travels to Cote d’Ivoire on Friday noon where they will embark on preparations before facing Seychelles at Stade Félix Houphouet-Boigny in Abidjan in their second pool match on Monday.

In another pool match, Burundi edged Gambia 3-2 to move top of the group with thee points with Gabon placed second.

Both sides started well and Kenya almost suffered a setback in the fourth minute when custodian Patrick Matasi collided with Gabon striker Allevinah Jim, who was attempting to connect with a cross inside the box.  

Matasi continued and Kenya steadily grew in the game with forwards Michael Olunga and Masud Juma troubling the homeside defence.

At the quarter hour mark, Gabon won a free kick after Amos Nondi’s foul, but Matasi was up to the task, rising above the Panthers players in a crowded defence to grab the ball.

Matasi went down again in the 21st minute,  hile grabbing the ball from Guelor’s corner kick. Two minutes later, Gabon custodian Fotso Nouby suffered an injury and was replaced by Anse Ngouby.

Five minutes later, Kenya took the lead as Amos Nondi released a long ball which custodian Anse Ngouby missed after coming off his line allowing Masud to head into an empty net.

Captain Michael Olunga had a chance to give Kenya the second goal towards the end of the first half but his bullet header was saved by Ngouby.

Gabon came back in the second half stronger and opted to attack via the flanks and their efforts were soon rewarded as the Harambee Stars defence buckled under pressure.

Bounga's close range shot beat Matasi at the hour mark sending the fans into a frenzy.  Bounga then picked out second half substitute Patrick Bambisa, who  squandered a big chance to add the second for the Panthers in the 66th minute

Harambee Stars coach Engin Firat then withdrew Kenya Police midfielder Kenneth Muguna who made way for his teammate Duke Abuya to bolster the midfield and provide cover for the defence.

With the game seemingly headed for a draw, Kanga unleashed a screamer that beat Matasi, to complete the comeback. They face Burundi at home in their second match on Sunday looking to make it two wins on the trot.