Will Stars shine over Eagles?

Published on 06/06/2009

By Robin Toskin

Harambee Stars’ rhetoric in the 2010 World Cup/Africa Nations Cup comes up for close scrutiny tomorrow when they face Super Eagles in a Group Two qualifier at Abuja National Stadium, Nigeria.

After an impressive second round performance in which they claimed passage to the final phase at the expense of Zimbabwe, Kenya believed they have a genuine chance of making it at least to the continental showpiece next year.

But after a troubled start in which they tamely lost 2-1 to Tunisia, doubts abound they would meet their minimum ambition.

Stars’ troubled campaign thus needs an urgent face-lift beginning with the trip to West Africa.

Nigeria also began on the wrong footing, by their high standards, with a goalless away in Mozambique.

And with Mozambique visiting Tunisia, it is unthinkable Nigeria will be in the mood to exchange niceties with Harambee Stars.

It is unlikely the Super Eagles would have time for such Ibo words as “En nwelem oji” (I have got kola-nuts), often said by the host while presenting the nut as a sign of goodwill to visitors.

Nigeria President

Among the Ibo, Oji (Kola-nuts), signifies clean mind and pure intention. But clearly after President Umaru Yar’Adua set up a 12-man committee to prosecute Super Eagle’s battle to South Africa, it is unthinkable their intentions would be clear and pure to favour Stars’ fortunes.

Even if kola were to be offered, it would only be one, not two as the later is reserved for titled men. Are Harambee Stars titled?

In urging Super Eagles to go on and gorge out Harambee Stars eyes for glory, a pot of Sh9.43 million has been put in their nest if they deliver three or more goals.

So, when tomorrow comes it will be Harambee Stars’ big day. And so it would be for Super Eagles’.

If the Eagles would pass around kola as a sign of clean mind and pure intention it is only logical to say it will be the intention to tear apart Harambee Stars.

Their 1-1 draw away to Ireland and 1-0 victory over 1998 World champions, France, has re-energised Shuaibu Amodu’s side after taking stick for their lackluster show against Mozambique.

Super Eagles

That fringe players Michael Eneramo (Esperance, Tunisia) and Joseph Akpala (Club Brugge, Belgium) got the goals for Nigeria would send shivers down the spines of their opponents.

Not for Kenya’s Antoine Hey. Despite having been severely criticised for engaging in federation wars and failing to get his tactics right, Hey said he would make Nigeria pay for their showboating.

Hey said before the team left for Abuja: “I am not cowed by our opponents build-up results. We are focused and we know what we know our targets clearly.”

He added: “These are two different teams with different desires. After losing the opening qualifier against Tunisia and given the fact that Kenya has never beaten Nigeria, these boys are baying for Super Eagles’ blood and are hungry for victory.”

Behind Hey’s air of confidence, however, lies a genuine threat from a Nigeria side motivated by failure to qualify for Germany 2006.

The Super Eagles paid for complacency when Angola nicked the ticket at the last day of qualifiers, where although they beat Zimbabwe away, Oliveira Goncalves’ side beat Rwanda to top their group.

The same scenario is panning out after Tunisia beat Kenya and Nigeria could only draw away to Mozambique.

The draw invited savage criticism of coach Shuaibu. But after a morale-boosting win over France and a draw against the Republic of Ireland, it could be all systems go for the Eagles against ill-prepared Kenyans.

All the top Eagles are available except for long-term injury, striker Yakubu Aiyegbeni. A win would thus help take the pressure off Shuaibu when he flies the Eagles to Tunisia on June 20.

Joseph Yobo (Everton), Nwankwo Kanu (Portsmouth) John Obi Mikel (Chelsea), Ikechukwu Uche (Getafe), Kalu Uche (Almeria), Seyi Olofinjana (Stoke City) are all available for selection.

Also in the mix are Obafemi Martins (Newcastle), Sani Kaita (Sparta Rotterdam, Holland), Obinna Nsofor (Inter Milan, Italy), Chibuzor Okonkwo, John Utaka (Portsmouth) and Osaze Odemwinge (Locomotiv Moscow).

But while Nigeria are bursting on the seams with quality, any Harambee Stars coach would struggle cobbling together a team capable of pulling the rug under the feet of an average side in the continent.

AJ Auxerre’s Denis Oliech and AC Parma’s MacDonald Mariga are the only genuine quality in the team.

Goalkeeper Arnold Origi has shown a lot of promise but is yet to hit top deck. A cracked kneecap against Zimbabwe on June 14 may have also slowed down the FK Moss (Norway) goalkeeper. FeverPitch, however, understands coach Hey has been in touch with FK Moss tactician, Per Morten Haugen to get first hand information about Origi’s progress.

It will be a huge gamble if coach Hey should start with the 24-year-old against Nigeria who ruled himself out of the Tunisia tie for lack of match fitness.

FK Marrienham (Finland) goalkeeper Willis Ochieng could be thrown into the fray.

Harambee Stars defending was in quandary against the Carthage Eagles and it could be too late for Hey to find genuine quality to fill the void left by Mathare United centre-back, Edgar Ochieng’.

Against Tunisia, Hey started with a five-man midfield largely composed of defenders and an attacking midfielder, Robert Mambo playing in front of the defence.

The tactic backfired as Mambo was caught in possession as Isaam Jomaa raced clear to burry the winner after Oliech had cancelled out Amman Jemal’s opener.

Hey has kept faith with Pascal Ochieng (KCB), Yanga defenders on loan to Tusker— Joseph Shikokoti and John Njoroge, Mulinge Ndeto (Ulinzi Stars), George Owino (Yanga) and veteran captain Musa Otieno (Santos, SA). Gor Mahia’s Julius Awino has rediscovered his form and is likely to play some role against Nigeria.

Oliech as always should lead the line of attack which alongside Allan Wanga with Patrick Oboya, Peter Opiyo and returning midfielder John ‘Mo’ Muiruri likely to be involved. Victor Mugabe was a thorn in the Eagles’ flesh in Harambee Stars 1-0 loss in a friendly in May 29 and showed flashes of brilliance against Tunisia. Hey’s decision to carry him along demonstrates the youngster’s talent.

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