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First Harambee Stars call up leaves budding duo of Okoth, Ochieng in cloud nine

Brian Okoth and John Ochieng celebrate their first call-up to the Harambee Stars as coach Engin Firat selects five newcomers for key World Cup qualifiers. The duo aims to help Kenya secure a historic World Cup spot.

Louis Hobbs
Louis Hobbs

Last Updated: 2024-05-22

Naim Rosinski

6 minutes read

Brian Okoth

Brian Okoth first heard of his maiden call up to the Kenyan football team, Harambee Stars on Saturday May 18 shortly after their league match against Tusker that was played at the Police Sacco Stadium.

The centre back eavesdropped a conversation between his teammates who marveled at how quick he had managed to convince Stars coach Engin Firat that he was good enough for national team duties.

Considering that Firat had not called to convey the news or forwarded the invitation to join the Stars camp to the club or a representative, Okoth brushed the talks as rumours and strolled home for a rest.

Later in the evening, an unexpected call from Firat hit his cell phone with the Turkish tactician confirming that indeed he had reserved a place for him in the provisional squad for the 2026 World Cup qualifiers against Burundi and Ivory Coast.

All he was expected to do was to digest the news and keep calm awaiting the official announcement that was done on Monday, shortly after the lunch hour. 

For a player who made his Kenyan Premier League debut on February 13 2022 while attached to Vihiga Bullets back then, a first call up wasn't something he was expecting at all.

"I was expecting it at all to be honest. My plan was to fight for a place in the national team from next season but I am happy my efforts in the current season haven't gone unnoticed," he told Sportsboom in a telephone interview
 

Image Credits: Brian Okoth

Image Credits: Brian Okoth

Dream come true for Okoth

Okoth, who had a nightmarish start to life in the Kenyan top tier after his first game aborted, is satisfied with the ground covered to the extent of getting first call up at a time when he is barely two years old at the top level. 

In his first-ever top tier game that was against record champions Gor Mahia, Bullets failed to show up in the second half citing security concerns.

That didn't bar him from pursuing his dreams as his defensive prowess earned him a move to FC Talanta in January last year.

Being a left-footed centre back, Okoth was highly-sought after in this season's mid-season transfer window with league giants and mid-table teams all battling for his signature.

Kenya Police, unleashed their financial muscle and secured his signature in February and despite the club having seasoned centre backs, Okoth pierced through and has since established himself as a strong pillar in the back line. 

"The progress I have made in my career is thoroughly satisfying. To imagine that I was playing in nondescript leagues three years ago while in school and right now I have my first national team cap is quite something. I am confident of doing well in the national team camp and making a debut in one of the two matches ahead of us," added the former Homa Bay Prisons team player.

Other new faces

Besides Okoth, Firat called up four more uncapped players ahead of the two matches that will all be played away from Nairobi.

Kenya will host Burundi in Malawi on June 7 at the Bingu National Stadium with the clash against the African champions going down four days later in Abidjan.

Kenya would have hosted the game against Burundi in front of home fans but lack of a FIFA-accredited facility at the moment forced the federation to look for alternatives.

John Ochieng, combative midfielder who plies his trade with Zambian Super League side Zanaco, got his name included in the 25-man squad.

Ochieng, who joined Zanaco in July last year, considers the first call up as one of the best moments in his career and can't wait to join the camp.

"I am delighted to be joining the national team camp for the first time. I have been working hard for such moments and I am glad my efforts have paid off. I have had wonderful moments in my career but I consider this as one of the best so far," said the midfielder in a telephone interview.

Image Credits: John Ochieng

Image Credits: John Ochieng

Ochieng hopeful of Stars qualification to the World Cup

The midfielder, who won the Kenyan Premier League with Gor Mahia last year, believes that he will have a strong impact in camp and will play a significant role in firing Stars to their first-ever World Cup appearance.

"The goal shifts to working hard in camp and making a debut. I want to be part of the team that will be best remembered for delivering the World Cup ticket. It is possible if we believe in ourselves," added the former Tusker and Chemelil Sugar player.

Kenyans question motive to naturalise players

While Okoth and Ochieng are well known in Kenya, two of their colleagues whom they earned first call ups with are unknown locally.

Firat called up Bradford City midfielder Adam Wilson and extended similar favour to the Germany-based Tobias Knost.

Bruce Kamau who was born in Kenya but relocated to Australia aged four has also been considered.

The inclusion of Wilson and Knost appeared to divide opinion on Social media with many appearing to fault Firat for giving the duo the platform to launch their international careers at such a big stage and at the expense of well known players.

Meanwhile the Kenyan captain Michael Olunga, fast-rising midfielder Richard Odada and right back Daniel Anyembe are all expected to link with the team in Malawi on June 2.

The three were not named in the provisional squad.

Louis Hobbs
Louis HobbsLead Journalist

Meet Louis Hobbs, our esteemed authority on all matters sports-related. With a wealth of knowledge and experience, Louis effortlessly emerges as our go-to expert. His particular expertise in the realms of darts and snooker sets him apart and brings a level of insight that goes beyond the ordinary. Louis also holds a deep affection for all things related to US sports, with a special emphasis on basketball and American football, which stand out as his particular favorites. His content may not resonate with you, if you don't consider Lamar Jackson the most skilled player in the NFL.