Kick-Off: Saturday, November 14, 2009.
Kasarani Stadium Nairobi
Nations Cup Ticket Will Spur Kenya On
The Harambee Stars of Kenya last featured at the 2004 Africa Cup of Nations in Tunisia, and victory for them over a much favoured Nigerian team on Saturday could well seal their qualification for the 2010 event in Angola.
They have so far recorded three points from five matches and lie a point behind third-placed Mozambique. They will therefore need to win and hope Mozambique do not do same in Maputo if they are to earn a berth in Angola.
However, the Kenyans' build-up to this all-important tie has been anything but plain sailing. There has been a much-publicised fallout between Football Kenya and coach Antoine Hey.
Hey has stayed away from training after two players, Dennis Oliech and Edgar Ochieng, were imposed on him by the local football authorities. In Hey's place, a set of local coaches have been training the team.
It now appears that Hey is in his last days as Kenya coach.
"The writing is on the wall. One of our conditions was qualifying for the African Cup of Nations," announced Football Kenya Limited (FKL) vice-chairman Titus Kasuve.
"The coach has had his way in the last five matches and we have seen the results. The fans have been calling for the changes. It is time to bring in everybody in a last ditch effort to qualify for Angola."
Overlooked for last month’s World Cup qualifier against Tunisia, Oliech has been a significant influence at Auxerre, who are in the top bracket of the French league this season.
He remains Kenya’s top scorer in the qualifiers. Last year he netted four times as Stars cruised past the second round of qualifiers, securing famous victories against, amongst others, Guinea. He has scored only once in the second round of the qualifiers, but it is worth noting that no one else in the team has scored more than one goal.
By his own standards, Oliech’s form has not been impressive, but an apparent fall out with coach Hey is thought to have contributed to his poor performances.
Oliech at one time criticised Hey’s appointment and threatened not to honour call-ups if former coach Francis Kimanzi was not reinstated.
"I have no bad feelings for the coach. I believe he knows what he wants for the team," said Oliech. "There has been a lot of talk about my fitness, but if those claims are true, how come I've been fielded [by Auxerre] for those minutes?"
Denmark-based midfielder Emmanuel Ake has also been recalled by Kenya, while the Harambee Stars will be without MacDonald Mariga and Robert Mambo due to injury. However, a 5-0 spanking by Kuwait in a friendly earlier this month has certainly not done their confidence a world of good.
Win Or Bust For Nigeria
The Super Eagles just did enough to win with almost the last kick of the ball at home to Mozambique last month, keeping alive their hopes of qualifying for next year's World Cup in South Africa.
Nigeria have thus far recorded nine points from five matches, two fewer than Group 2 leaders Tunisia, meaning they have to beat Kenya in Nairobi on Saturday to stand any chance of qualification. Of course, they also need Mozambique to do them a turn against Tunisia to make their dreams come true.
Coach Shuaibu Amodu has come under fire as Nigeria find themselves in a tight corner. The Super Eagles were previously perceived to have a relatively easy pathway to South Africa.
Amodu has been blamed for poor tactics and team selection, even when his side recorded a perfect record in the previous qualifying round.
The Eagles will again be without striker Ikechukwu Uche, who is suffering from a long-term knee injury, while Danny Shittu, Sani Kaita, Yusuf Mohammed and Adefemi Olubayo are also sidelined.
Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel is fit again after an ankle injury sidelined him for several weeks. He is expected to start against the Harambee Stars.
CSKA Moscow right-back Chidi Odiah has been recalled after missing the team's last three games.
“You never can tell the outcome of a match until the final whistle," he explained. "I don’t think the team should be written off before the last games are played. Who says Tunisia can’t fall in Maputo? We are in a very difficult position but we must appreciate the fact that football is an interesting game with surprises.
“If we had no hope of qualifying in the first place, I don’t think we would have bothered about travelling to Nairobi.”
Lokomotiv Moscow striker Peter Odemwingie has been the outstanding player for Nigeria in their last two games, and he has also expressed confidence of victory in Kenya.
“We cannot take the Kenyans for granted because they have not beaten us for a long time now," he stated. "We must therefore play as a group to win the match. Don’t forget that despite the fact that we beat them 3-0 in Abuja, they were not an easy side. Besides, they want to be part of the African Nations Cup next year and I believe that will be their biggest motivation.
"We also want to go to the World Cup, but we must show more determined than they will if we want to win. With a win, and God help us, we might just find ourselves at the top of the group ahead of Tunisia."
November 3, 2009 - Kuwait 5 Kenya 0
October 11, 2009 - Tunisia 1 Kenya 0
September 5, 2009 - Mozambique 1 Kenya 0
June 20, 2009 - Kenya 2 Mozambique 1
October 11, 2009 - Nigeria 1 Mozambique 0
September 6, 2009 - Nigeria 2 Tunisia 2
June 20, 2009 - Tunisia 0 Nigeria 0
June 7, 2009 - Nigeria 3 Kenya 0
The Harambee Stars have each been promised a whooping $7,500-a-man bonus by a top beer company if they beat Nigeria and qualify for the Nations Cup.
If South Africa-based defender Musa Otieno is picked for this game, he will be the only survivor from when the teams clashed at the same venue almost 13 years ago in a 1998 World Cup qualifier.
Probable Line-Up: Willis Ochieng - Musa Otieno, George Owino, Edgar Ochieng, Julius Owino - John Mwengi, Victor Mugabe, Peter Opiyo, Patrick Onyango - Jockins Atudo, Dennis Oliech
The Eagles will depart Abuja by chartered flight on Thursday night for Kenya. There have been concerns over the high altitude in Nairobi, but officials have insisted that with only a 48-hour stay there, the Eagles can handle this problem.
Sion defender Obinna Nwaneri is expected to start in the heart of the defence because of an injury to Bolton's Danny Shittu. Sparta Rotterdam's Dele Adeleye remains shut out after the mistake that led to Tunisia's late equaliser in Abuja.
Probable Line-up: Enyeama - Taye Taiwo, Odiah, Yobo, Nwaneri - Ajilore, Ayila, Osaze Odemwingie, Obinna Nsofor - Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Obafemi Martins
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Edgar Ochieng - The Mathare United skipper is widely believed to be Kenya's best defender, and most fans are therefore baffled that coach Antoine Hey has preferred to overlook him since he took over from Kimanzi. The big centre-back will have to be at his best against what is expected to be a tide of Nigerian attacks.
Peter Odemwingie - The Lokomotiv Moscow striker has been in superb form in the last two qualifiers for the Eagles. His whole-hearted commitment to the cause, as well as his pace, have endeared him to the fans.
This is expected to be an open game as both teams need a win to improve their qualification chances - Nigeria for the World Cup and Kenya for the Nations Cup. In the end, the quick Nigerian attack will go past the home team's defence and extend the Eagles' fine record against the East Africans.
Kenya 0 Nigeria 2
Samm Audu, Goal.com