NAIROBI, Kenya, June 4- “By this time tomorrow, I’m sure you will be crying. We are only proud of Kenya for David Rudisha, Ehe! Ehe! He runs for us in Africa.
“We are the African representatives in football, if it comes to running, I shall be proud of choosing you,” a Nigerian fan goaded his Kenyan counterpart in reference to the Olympic champion and world 800m record holder.
“This is not Afrosinema ooh! We almost beat you in Calabar where you bribed the referee,” the local retorted back in mockery of the name that generally refers to Nollywood movies in this country.
The vocal group of handful fans was the perfect microcosm of the intense atmosphere that will envelop Nairobi’s Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani when the crucial 2014 World Cup qualifier pitting hosts Harambee Stars versus African champions Nigeria Super Eagles gets underway on Wednesday.
Having accused the Nigerians of maltreating their team ahead of their first meeting in Calabar on March 23, the situation was further inflamed when the Super Eagles squad with their star players including Chelsea midfielder, John Obi Mikel emerged from their training session on Tuesday to find their bus missing.
“Where is the bus? Has it disappeared?” wondered the Chelsea midfielder as he pensively sat with his team mates. Eventually, head coach Stephen Keshi and his squad hiked lifts from a media van belonging to SuperSport, the ambassadors’ vehicle as well as the Kenya Police chase car as they squeezed in to fit, hardly the luxury they are accustomed to in air conditioned buses or marquee vehicle their careers have afforded them.
Away from the sideshows, the battle lines have been drawn in a fixture that will determine the destiny of a tight Group F in the race for Brazil 2014.
Nigeria and Malawi are deadlocked on five points but the Super Eagles lead by virtual of goals scored. Namibia who visit the Flames in Blantyre are third on three and Stars prop the pool in two. It’s anyone’s game.
“We are looking for good results by God’s grace,” Keshi said after wrapping his 15 minute training session. Keeping his answers short and crisp, the Nations Cup winning tactician dismissed assertions their long trip from Frankfurt, through Addis Ababa and finally to Nairobi would affect his team in the punishing elevation of Nairobi.
“We will see what happens tomorrow in the game,” he quipped as he exuded confidence his charge would prevail without star forwards, Victor Moses of Chelsea and Emmanuel Emenike of Spartak Moscow whose goals propelled the Eagles to the AFCON final in South Africa.
“We have a lot of players, we don’t depend on one player, we depend on the team, if Victor is not here, if Emenike is not here, Nigeria are going to play,” he added.
With the FIFA Confederation Cup looming, Keshi insisted his focus at the moment was on picking maximum points against Kenya and Namibia to bring their World Cup dream closer and they were under no strain to win the match.
“We have four teams in this group, so the pressure should be spread around, it’s everybody and its all pressure around, Kenya want to win, Malawi want to win and Namibia want to win.”
His captain and keeper, Victor Enyeama, echoed his boss noting, “We are getting to face a good team, get involved with a team that played us a draw back home and hopefully we can tone the tie and qualify from the group.
“For now, we are thinking of the three matches left, we are not thinking of the Confed Cup that is way out of us now.”
On the other side, the host side wrapped up their build-up with a session at the same venue in the morning and proceeded to meet Head of State, President Uhuru Kenyatta who has promised the squad 31, 232 dollars (Ksh 3m) for a win.
Stand-in captain and Celtic FC midfield stalwart, Victor Wanyama, earlier pledged to lead his side to victory over Nigeria for the first time in tribute to regular skipper, Dennis Oliech and injured first choice custodian, Arnold Origi who were suspended for this tie.
“If we win, it will be the best for them too because they wanted to be here and it is sometimes annoying for a player to be out of the game. We just want to give them a good result so that they can come back feeling well for the next match,” Wanyama said.
KENYA v NIGERIA HEAD TO HEAD
23/3/ 2013 Nigeria 1 – 1 Kenya
14/11/2009 Kenya 2 – 3 Nigeria
7/6/2009 Nigeria 3 – 0 Kenya
27/ 5/2007 Kenya 0 – 1 Nigeria
7/ 6/1997 Nigeria 3 – 0 Kenya
12/ 1/1997 Kenya 1 – 1 Nigeria
14/ 1/1992 Nigeria 2 – 1 Kenya
14/ 3/88 Nigeria 3 – 0 Kenya
20/4/1985 Nigeria 3 – 1 Kenya
6/ 4/1985 Kenya 0 – 3 Nigeria
9/ 4/1966 Kenya 1 – 1 Nigeria