Heartbreak in Abuja

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ABUJA, Nigeria, June 7 – Harambee Stars suffered a crashing 3-0 loss to Nigeria’s Super eagles in a 2010 World Cup qualifier in Abuja on Sunday.STARSGoals from Ikechukwu Uche, Kanu Uche and substitute Obinna Nsofor condemned Stars to their second defeat in group B which means that Stars are rooted to the bottom of the group while Tunisia-victors over Mozambique on Sunday are top with six points, two ahead of Nigeria while Mozambique hang on with a point.

Sunday’s result though was harsh on Stars who more than held their own particularly for 15 minutes after the interval wasting several gilt edged opportunities but in the clinical Nigerians made good use of theirs to win comfortably.

Watched by a sell out crowd at the Abuja national stadium, Stars briefly quietened the mammoth crowd as they put the Nigerians on the back foot before succumbing to a killer punch.

The Super Eagles sprung the first surprise of the match by leaving out their star players-There was no Chelsea’s John Mikel Obi, Pompey’s John Utaka, Everton’s Joseph Yobo, Marseille’s Taye Taiwo while Captain Nwankwo Kanu only made the bench.

On his part, Antoine Hey made three changes from the side that had lost to Tunisia with Arnold Origi, Julius Owino and Austin Makacha drafted into the side while Patrick Oboya was included from the start.

Hey was dressed in a black suit and it looked almost appropriate as the Super Eagles sought to bury the Stars under an avalanche of attacks.

They went ahead on three minutes when a clumsy piece of defending presented Ikechukwu with an opportunity and he finished with aplomb planting the ball past an exposed Origi.

What followed was ten minutes of pure hell for the losers as Nigerian players stroked the ball around with confidence. Osaze Odemwingie and Ikechukwu in particular were in the thick of things as Kenyans chased shadows.

Given the job of shielding the back four, Makacha was up against Ikechukwu and the Getafe man was causing no end of problems with Makacha resulting to several cynical fouls.

Upfront Oliech was isolated in the 3-6-1 formation deployed by Hey and could be seen calling for his team-mates to push up.

But slowly, Stars came back into the game led by the indefatigable Mariga. The Parma midfielder was ubiquitous-chasing and harrying as well as setting up most of Kenya’s tentative play and it was no surprise that he produced the first genuine threat with a low 25 yarder that forced Austin Enyeama to a sharp save.

Dennis Oliech had been kept quiet for most of the half but on 27 minutes he came alive crashing a rasping shot against the woodwork after fine interchange with Makacha and minutes later he shot just wide after wriggling through on the right.

Stars though are capable of self destructing and they almost gifted the Nigerians a sloppy goal on the stroke of halftime when Origi let an Odemwingie cross go through between his legs only for the youngster to recover quickly and make an important block.

Clearly unhappy with proceedings in the last minutes of the first half, Nigerian coach Shoaib Amodu sent on Kanu in place of the ineffectual Dickson Etuhu.

Not that it made much difference as the Stars came out fighting.

First Oliech beat the defence but chose to square instead of having a go and the chance was lost. Then minutes later he again stripped the defence rounded the keeper but the angle was too tight and Oboya and Owino were both unable to turn in his cutback.

The Nigerians were rattled as the sell out crowd watched pensively though Ikechukwu again forced Origi to a flying save on 3 minutes.

Oliech was staging a one man show upfront and he lashed one wide on 71 minutes.

Then Kanu decided to take matters into his own hands, embarking on a powerful run before sliding in Odemwingie who was brought down in the box with the referee pointing to the spot.

Kalu Uche just about beat Origi’s despairing dive with the penalty and the Stars were finally broken. Then Obinna Nsofor hammered the final nail on Stars coffin with great piece of skill and an emphatic finish.

In the end just like the Tunisian game in March, Stars had the chance to win it but were left thinking of what might have been.

Next up, Mozambique on June 20.

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