Few people actually vouched for Kenyaâ€™s Harambee Stars to win or even draw against Nigeriaâ€™s Super Eagles on Sunday. So the 3-0 outcome didnâ€™t surprise many people, least of all the majority of Kenyans, who prior to the meeting, were oozing cynicism with regard to their team doing anything to stop the wanton massacre that Nigeria has wrought on them over the years.
The latest defeat was Kenyaâ€™s ninth against Nigeria, and fifth in the backyard of their World Cup qualifying rivals. And in all these encounters the scoreline has been the jinxed 3-0, aside from a 1981 fixture, in which Kenya squeezed a goal.
Going into the Sunday showdown, Nigeria were the outright favourites and the players, media and fans were confident of getting an impressive result against the Kenyans.
Besides their colourful history, their preparation for the match was excellent in comparison to their Kenyan opponents. For lack of a better word, the Harambee Starsâ€™ preparations could be described as horrendous. The government of Nigeria didnâ€™t need to promise their players hefty bonuses for them to beat Kenya.
But yet fans who watched the match walked tall with the knowledge that the Super Eagles actually escaped, despite the 3-0 scoreline!
Statistics of the match tell a different story from the result that was registered at the end of the game. The Harambee Stars had 52 per cent of the ball possession against Nigeriaâ€™s 48 per cent! It may be that possession doesnâ€™t count for anything at the end of the day, but it portrays the ground that Kenya have covered and also Nigeriaâ€™s recession from being at the epitome of continental soccer.
The Super Eagles woeful evening is best captured by Nigerian paper This Day.
â€œAnd despite the fact that it was them [Nigeria] who had the account for the afternoon opened and who were actually still in front, by the 15th minute of the encounter, it was the visitors who were dictating the pace with crisp passes,â€ the paper stated. â€œThe Super Eagles were ordinary in every department of the game, and no particular section could be made out to be their major failure.
â€œSurviving the first half would soon become obvious to be the result of naivety on the part of their opponents from East Africa.
â€œThe Kenyans had many opportunities to cancel the lead, instead they played like a set of Sunday School players at best, and like dilettantes at worst.â€
This at least mildly tells the story, however, Shaibu Amodu should thank Dennis Oliech, McDonald Mariga and Patrick Oboya for missing chances; otherwise he would be jobless by now.
In the first half, Oliech, who is the top marksman for the Kenyan team – he has so far scored five goals in the campaign – was left with only the keeper to beat, however, he blasted his shot upwards, slightly grazing the woodwork.
In the second half, he showed his prowess by beating two defenders and the goalie. Instead of converting from a tight angle, he decided to be philanthropic, turn back and give a pass that went a-begging.
The same happened to Parma midfielder Mariga, who was not only wasteful by holding the ball for too long, but missed an opportunity from less than ten yards with only the keeper to beat. Nothing can be said of the open chance Oboya missed.
It is with a heavy heart to note that Kenyans were let down by their top professionals, led by former captain Robert Mambo, who incidentally gifted Nigeria the first goal, similar to the one he also donated to Tunisia in March.
Overall the team played well. The defence was adequate, although it was caught napping on occasions, and the midfield was superb until Nwankwo Kanu came to the Nigeriansâ€™ rescue.
Instead of playing defensively as most people expected, the Harambee Stars played an open game and won the midfield battle against a Nigerian side that has a legion of experienced players.
Nigeria might have won the day, but they did little to put Kenya under pressure, had few chances on goal and the magic of past players, such as Jay Jay Okocha, was missing.
Amoduâ€™s charges are lucky the match was switched to Abuja from Lagos. In Lagos, the fans demand that besides winning, the team must play like Brazil or Barcelona. The team would have been booed off the pitch, more so after they had scored their three goals and started playing negative football, holding the ball and back passing to waste time instead of going for more goals.
At best they looked an ordinary beatable side that lacked creative and seductive football. How many shoots did Kenya keeper Arnold Origi save as compared to Vincent Enyeama? Origi saved only one shot from Peter Odemwingie. How many corners did Eagles have? What about free kicks near the goalmouth? Not many. That tells you how awful the Super Eagles were.
The scoreline can truly excite the Nigerians, but on another day there could have been mourning in the Abujaâ€™s National Stadium.
The results should not trick Nigeria into thinking that the current Super Eagles are indomitable. To chase for the World Cup spot, they must up their game and take charge of the proceedings and pace of play.
If the Harambee Stars can string passes together easily and negotiate a route through the Nigerian midfield and defence before their own fans, I fear Super Eagles will not be near South Africa come next summer.