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Exclusive: Engin Firat Admits Cameroon threat, stresses Kenya’s Aim to Qualify For AFCON

Kenya head coach Engin Firat remains determined to qualify for the 2025 Africa Cup of Nations despite being placed in a tough group with Cameroon.

Dennis Onsare
Dennis Onsare

Last Updated: 2024-07-08

Louis Hobbs

8 minutes read

Kenya head coach Engin Firat has remained adamant Harambee Stars aims to qualify for the 2025 Africa Cup of Nations in Morocco despite being pooled alongside African powerhouse Cameroon.

The draw for the 35th edition of the tournament was held in Johannesburg, South Africa on Thursday, and it placed Kenya in Group J alongside the Indomitable Lions, Namibia, and Zimbabwe.

Immediately after the draw, former Kenya international Elijah Onsika singled out Cameroon as the team that could trouble Harambee Stars in their quest to qualify for the tournament in the North African nation from December 21, 2025, to January 18, 2026.

“The draw is very kind for Kenya, I think even coach Engin (Firat) should be smiling wherever he is because he got an easy draw, and with good preparations, Kenya will qualify from the group,” Onsika 
told SportsBoom.com.

“When I look at the teams (in the draw), I think only Cameroon can trouble Kenya, the rest, Kenya can easily win against them.”

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Image Credits: The Citizen 

Cameroon Success Doesn’t Change Kenya's Vision

While admitting that Cameroon were among Africa's top two successful teams, the 54-year-old Firat said it will not change that Kenya’s ambition is to qualify for the biggest event on African soil.

“Cameroon is one of the best, I don’t know the top two successful countries in Africa, so of course anyone who says something different about them, doesn’t know anything about football but it doesn’t change the fact that we (Kenya) want to go to AFCON,” Firat told SportsBoom.com.

“So whatever it takes, we will have to be among the teams heading to Morocco, we don’t care where we finish in the group if we finish top or second, what matters is to qualify and be in Morocco in 2025.”

Kenya’s last meeting against Cameroon played in 2010 at Kasarani Stadium ended in a 3-1 victory in favour of the Indomitable Lions while in 2019, the two sides faced off in an AFCON qualifier, the first ending 1-1 in Nairobi and Cameroon winning the return leg 2-1 in Yaounde.

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It is a very tough group, we have strong teams there not only Cameroon and Namibia, Zimbabwe is tough because they have good players, who are playing in top leagues in Europe.

Engin Firat

Firat Happy to Have Kenya in Tough Group

Apart from Cameroon, Firat revealed Zimbabwe as another side that should not be underrated in their group.

“I hear people talking that Zimbabwe will be easy for Kenya, I don’t think so, they were in Pot 4 of the draw because of dropping in FIFA rankings just like us, but realistically they have a good team, and we all know how strong they are.”

The former Moldovia tactician explained why a tough group would be good for Kenya in their mission to qualify for a seventh AFCON appearance. “We expect a tough group but on the other side sometimes it is better to have a tough group because then everybody can win against everybody, and the group will stay very open until the end.”

Firat added: “For us, it doesn't change, who will be our rivals, we have only one aim, we want to go to the AFCON.”

On what excites him about the group, Firat said: “The good part of the story is that Zimbabwe, Namibia, Cameroon, and Kenya are strong sides, it means everybody can beat everybody, therefore, even if you lose a game there is no big value because everybody will lose and that is the reality of these group, and these makes the group interesting and so for us, we know how tough it is and we know our aim.”

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It is one and half years since we played at home, in front of our fans, and such kind of matches need the home fans to support us, we need to play at home, we receive promises that we will play at home, but it never happens.

Engin Firat

Firat Hopes Harambee Stars Will Play at Home

With the qualifiers set to kick off in September 2024 and end in November 2024, Firat is hopeful Kenya will get the opportunity to play their home matches in Nairobi.

Kenya have not played a competitive match in Nairobi since their 1-0 friendly defeat against South Sudan on September 12, 2023. Since then, they have played seven matches in all competitions away.

With Kenya’s main stadiums – Moi Kasarani and Nyayo Stadium – closed by the government for renovation work in preparations to co-host the African Nations Championship (CHAN) and the 2027 AFCON, Harambee Stars’ last assignment - the 2026 FIFA World Cup qualifiers - saw Kenya settle for the Bingu National Stadium in Lilongwe, Malawi.

During the Group F matchday three and four fixture, Kenya returned home with two points following a 1-1 result against Burundi and a 0-0 draw against African champions Ivory Coast.

“It was the same case before we kicked off our World Cup qualifiers, we got promised we would play at home but four matches down the line in the group, and none of the home matches we have played at home. I hope it happens this time around, I hope they keep their promise.”

Kenya’s last appearance in the AFCON was in 2019 in Egypt, where they failed to qualify past the group stage.

Dennis Onsare
Dennis Onsare Sports Writer

Dennis is a seasoned journalist in Kenya with over 18 years of experience. Having started his career at Kenya Times Newspaper, Dennis worked for Standard Newspaper for nearly six years as a Sports Writer. At Standard, he was privileged to cover Kenya's national team Harambee Stars outside the country, the biggest of all being the Four Nations tournament in Cairo, Egypt. He also covered the U17 team in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.