NAIROBI, June 7 – "We are going to give you five," said an immigration officer to Harambee Stars coach Antoine Hey when he landed in Lagos on Thursday evening.
That statement underlined Nigerians’ confidence that the Super Eagles will steamroll over Harambee Stars in Sunday’s 2010 World Cup group B qualifier in Abuja.
From the media, to the taxi drivers and to the general public, the message has been the same- we will thrash Kenya. The question of winning by how many goals prominent. In their minds-that’s the only toughie.
And they good reason to be confident. Their side held Ireland to credible draw before running rings round former world champions France in a friendly last week.
Add the fact that they dropped points in their opening match against Mozambique and need to get a win to get back on track, huge cash incentives from a presidential task force formed to ensure they qualify for 2010 and you have fully motivated team awaiting Stars.
"We are ready. We didn’t gel against Mozambique, we played badly but we want to correct that tomorrow," said Coach Shoaib Amodu.
His sentiments were echoed by skipper Nwankwo Kanu, "We are ready for Kenya because our eyes are trained to South Africa. That’s where our heart is and we must start by winning on Sunday."
And it is this belief as well as a world class squad that Hey’s boys will be trying to stop from 6pm Kenyan time.
The odds are stacked against the Stars; they have never won a match in Nigeria-their last two encounters here ending in identical 3-0 losses in 1997 and 2002. Most recently, Stars lost 1-0 in a friendly played in Nairobi in May 2007.
In fact you have to go back to January 1997 when Kenya last got anything from a match against the fancied West Africans.
Preparations have been anything but ideal. Player wrangles over the infamous commitment letters to Hey’s failure to make the trip over unpaid salaries; the build up has been shrouded with off the field distractions.
However the boys will have to put all that aside as they face the group’s favourites and the German tactician is certainly not cowed.
"We are excited and looking forward to the game. These are the games that players live for and we want to enjoy every minute and hopefully play nice football and make all Kenyans proud. And the players are ready," said Hey.
"We have worked on our game plan, each player what we want to do and maybe we will surprise everyone," he added.
Norway based goalkeeper Arnold Origi is back in the side after a year out due to a serious a knee injury.
At the back, Hey will keep faith with the three man central defence of long serving skipper Musa Otieno, Pascal Ochieng and George Owino while Mulinge Munandi and John Njoroge will man the wingback positions.
In midfield, Austin Makacha will also make a welcome return after being left out of the Tunisia game providing a welcome shield infront of the back four. Vice captain Robert Mambo and Parma midfielder Macdonald Mariga will provide able support in the middle of the park.
Upfront, Stars will again call on Auxerre hitman Dennis Oliech to provide the goals. The speedster will most likely be employed as a lone striker but with four goals in the previous round of qualifiers, he will pose the main threat.
Hey will also be able to turn to Petro Atletico’s Allan Wanga, youngster Victor Mugabe should he need reinforcement.
The Nigerians are brimming with talent. Other than long term absentees Yakubu Aiyegbeni, Obafemi Martins, Victor Anichebe and Chinedu Obasi, Coach Amodu will have a virtually full strength squad to choose from.
Skipper Nwankwo Kanu, John Utaka, John Mikel Obi, Ikechukwu Uche, Kalu Uche, Chidi Odiah, Osaze Odemwingie and Taye Taiwo will form a formidable opponent and it will be upto Hey’s charges to prove that immigration officer wrong.