JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, June 11 – Nigeria could be the first qualifiers for the final round of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers in Africa if they win in Namibia on Wednesday.
Maximum points for the Super Eagles would give them an unassailable Group F lead if second-place Malawi do not win at home against bottom side Kenya the same day.
Reigning African champions Nigeria enter matchday 5 with eight points, Malawi have six, Namibia four and Kenya two and only the group winners advance to the two-leg play-offs.
Windhoek is the latest stop in a hectic period for the ‘Eagles’, who arrived in south-west Africa after a training camp in Germany, a draw with Mexico in the United States and a World Cup win in Kenya last Wednesday.
After Namibia, they jet across the Atlantic once more to face Tahiti, Uruguay and Spain in the Confederations Cup, with two further fixtures in the World Cup dress-rehearsal if they secure a top-two Group B finish.
The World Cup Group F fixtures were brought forward 72 hours because of the two-week tournament in Brazil, with Africa staging a further 18 matches between Friday and Sunday.
Coach Stephen Keshi gambled on a bold three-man attack against Kenya and succeeded, although Nigeria had to wait 81 minutes before 20-year-old Russia-based Ahmed Musa lobbed the only goal.
The ‘Eagles’ started with nine of the team that defeated Burkina Faso 1-0 in Soweto last February to win the Cup of Nations while injuries ruled out Chelsea midfielder Victor Moses and Turkey-based striker Ikechukwu Uche.
In came Musa and fellow striker Nnamdi Oduamadi and both played significant roles in a victory that confirmed Nigeria as favourites to make the final 10 of the African qualifying competition.
“The 4-3-3 system in Kenya worked well for us so there is no need to change,” Keshi told reporters in Windhoek. “Our focus is on defeating Namibia and not the Confederations Cup.”
Swede Roger Palmgren quit as Namibia coach Monday after saying he and his family received unspecified death threats and assistants Ricardo Mannetti and Ronnie Kanalelo take his place.
Namibia have been hindered by a blunt attack with only one goal in four group games and the continued absence of injured South Africa-based striker Henrico Botes and Rudolf Bester is a blow.
Malawi are also battling to score, finding the net just twice in 360 minutes, and the return of teenage striker Gabadinho Mhango after missing a 0-0 home draw against Namibia last week is a timely boost.
Kenya must do without new captain and Celtic midfielder Victor Wanyama, who is injured, while France-based striker and deposed skipper Dennis Oliech was left at home after arriving late in camp.
Having sacked Oliech, ‘Harambee Stars’ coach Adel Amrouche was involved in more drama on arrival in Malawi, initially refusing to drive from Lilongwe to Blantyre because he said the distance was too far and the bus sub-standard.