When the draws for the final phase of the African qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup was announced pitting the Super Eagles against Tunisia, Mozambique and Kenya, most football followers in Nigeria heaved a sigh of relief.
In fact, some had already started thinking of which hotel they would lodge during the World Cup. After all the Eagles had a 100 per cent record winning all their matches in the first phase of the qualifiers and as far as they were concerned, the games against Kenya and Mozambique were â€˜mere formalitiesâ€™ and all the Eagles needed was at worst a draw away against rival Tunisia and then seal the reverse fixture in Abuja and then they would be thinking of the next flight to Johannesburg.
But all that is history now as the Eagles find themselves in a precarious situation of non-qualification with just a game to the end of the African qualifiers.
With nine points from five games as against leaders Tunisiaâ€™s 11, the Eagles must beat the Harambee Stars (who have four points) in Kenya and then hope Tunisia loses in Maputo against a Mozambican side with four points and desperate for a ticket to the 2010 Orange African Nations Cup in Angola.
Head coach Shaibu Amodu, who has come under a barrage of criticisms from the local media, released his list for the Kenyan match on November 2 and quite unsurprisingly excluded Hoffeinheimâ€™s Chinedu Ogbuke and Portsmouthâ€™s John Utaka from the trip to Nairobi.
Both strikers have struggled in the green and white shirt in recent times and Amodu is not prepared to take further risks on them. Also out are right-backs Olubayo Adefemi and Yusuf Mohammed and striker Ikechukwu Uche, while CSKA Moscowâ€™s Chidi Odiah stages a return after a long injury lay-off.
Amodu replaced injured Lokomotiv Moscow midfielder Sani Kaita with Almeriaâ€™s Kalu Uche, who had a poor outing against Tunisia in Abuja. Another injury doubt, Chelsea midfielder John Obi Mikel, however said he would be fit in time for the match in Nairobi.
Odiah was dropped for most of the games in the second phase of the qualifiers after a fantastic performance in the first; even scoring a goal and winning the man-of-the-match award in the Eagles 4-1 win over Sierra Leone in 2008.
He believes the Eagles might still make the trip to South Africa against popular predictions.
â€œYou never can tell the outcome of a match until the final whistle. I donâ€™t think the team (Eagles) should be written off even before the last games of the qualifiers are played. Who says Tunisia canâ€™t fall in Maputo? We are in a very difficult position but we must appreciate the fact that football is an interesting game with surprises.
â€œIf we had no hope of qualifying in the first place, I donâ€™t think we should bother about travelling to Nairobi,â€ the CSKA right-back said.
Hardworking Locomotive Moscowâ€™s Osaze Odemwingie believes the team needs team work to beat the Harambee Stars despite the East Africansâ€™ poor record against the Eagles. The former Lille forward has been the shining light in a largely unimpressive Nigerian side.â€œWe cannot take the Kenyans for granted because they have not beaten us before.
Football is a team game, so we must play as a group to win the match. Donâ€™t forget that despite we beat them 3-0 earlier in the qualifiers in Abuja; they were not an easy side. Besides they want to be part of the African Nations Cup next year and I believe that is their biggest motivation,â€ Odemwingie said.
â€œWe also want to go to the World Cup but we must show more determined than they will if we want to win. With a win, and God help us, we might just find ourselves at the top of the group ahead of Tunisia.â€
Amodu is however approaching the Nairobi match cautiously.
â€œIt will be difficult in Kenya, but we donâ€™t have a choice but win the game. Actually the game against Mozambique in Abuja gave me much fear considering how they played us in the first fixture in Maputo.
â€œBut having scaled that hurdle, we are in top shape to get the desired result in our last game,â€ he said..