Gor beat odds to make Kenya proud but a strategy rethink is needed
As the no nonsense Moroccan centre referee Redouane Jiyed blew his final whistle announcing the end of the mouthwatering clash between Gor Mahia and Angola’s Petro Atletico on Sunday at a charged Moi International Sports Centre in Kasarani, so did the centre fail to hold!
Exuberant Gor fans, the Green Army as they are fondly known, poured onto the pitch unable to hold the emotions as they saw history unfold before their unbelieving eyes. The celebration was wild. A number of factors informed their act.
On the pitch, it had been a total football war, served hot for 90 minutes and additional 5 minutes of stoppage time that put the K’Ogalo faithful on the edge. But against all odds, and the cacophony of the K’Ogalo faithful could only swallow the sigh of relief especially by the technical bench then led by Zedekiah ‘Zico’ Otieno, Gor assistant coach who had to take charge after dismissal of his boss Hassan Okaty.
Football without balance it was, playing the Angolan giants with two men less, midfielder Ernest Wendo and Ugandan international Shafik Batambuze having seen red cards.
Wendo, before receiving his marching orders, was covering the back-line, which still missed a key figure Joash Onyango. It worsened when Batambuze, a left-back arguably with no equal at Gor, had to leave the pitch following a second yellow card in second half.
Atletico, capitalized on the lacuna, head coach Beto Bianchi played with five strikers leaving only two defenders making a small hell for Gor at their backyard, seeking to cancel Jacques Tuyisenge’s finely and artistically executed spot kick that sent the 60,000 fans at Kenya sports cathedral roaring.
On the stands, a sober follower could not help checking the clock constantly which appeared to be slowing down, as the unruly ones kept on throwing projectiles at the risk of a ban, suspension or hefty fine.As the emotions got the better of them, some fans stormed the pitch and the threat was real as the stewards did their best to mitigate the potential danger.
There was every reason to celebrate thus, when the Moroccan referee Redeouane Jiyed declared the match over, sealing a last eight berth for Gor and Egypt’s Zamalek from Group D.
Money factor could not be ignored; sh38 million had just been confirmed.
However, the victory came with more questions on the way forward, how to further decorate the historic CAF Confederations Cup quarter final qualification.
Just like the Biblical Joshua had to strategize newly after crossing River Jordan before storming the enemies’ camp, the Gor house is in a similar situation; a-catch-22 so to speak.
Reflecting on the qualification journey, the answers lie therein, as the legendary Tobias ‘Juakali’ Ocholla, giving his analysis in live coverage by Ramogi FM and later in an interview with Citizen Digital opined.
“Congratulations to the boys, they showed real character of a team that wants to win. They fought even when there was almost acceptable reason to give up. Two red cards is no joke in match of this cadre. This shows they have learnt how to manage the pressure on this big stage. This should be taken even a notch higher, as at the next level you have only two matches to decide your fate as opposed to six of the group stage,” observed Ocholla after the epic duel.
A dreaded colossus in his hey days, Ocholla says Gor must further know how to deal with opponents away from home, considering no point was gained on the road.
“There is a problem that teams from this country are not able to win or at least draw away. That causes a lot of pressure when you play at home, because there is only one option of winning. You could see the players were really under pressure hence the red cards, because the magnitude of the task. A must win situation against such a side was enormous. That should be avoided going into the quarters,” he advised.
Interestingly, Gor beat Zamalek, Algeria`s NA Hussein Dey and Petro 4-2, 2-0 and 1-0 respectively but could not manage a single draw away.
In the post-match reflections, Oktay emphasized on the away-home calculation, saying the modern football technology has disadvantaged Gor on the continental front.
“I’m forced to call friends to get details about opponents; we are quite far in terms of technology.
In 2019 you are operating with 1940 methodology ? I had a very rough idea on what to expect when we went to play Petro (Atletico) away…” offered Oktay, plainly signaling more needs to be done in scouting opponents.
The menace of poor officiating could not escape Oktay`s comments, noting the group finale would have been a little less demanding had the referees gotten it right away to Algeria.
“Honestly there is a lot to be done in officiating. It is funny that most teams hardly win away. The environment entirely needs to be addressed for visiting teams. You remember our match against Hussein Dey, we were openly denied a goal. The same case we saw with Simba (Tanzania’s Premier League Champions) who could not get away wins but got everything right at home,” regretted the coach.
Poignantly, while the puzzle of winning away at home to North Africa teams remains an unraveled complexity, Gor has a little chance of escaping a foe from the north when the quarters draw is conducted on Wednesday.
Either RS Berkane of Morocco, CS Sfaxien of Tunisia or Al Hilal Club will Gor draw, escaping only Zamalek who by virtue of qualifying from the same group.
The four topped their respective groups, as Gor, Hassania Agadir (Morocco) Etoile du Sahel (Tunisia) and Zambia’s Nkana Red Devils qualified as second teams.
There are enough televised matches of this season available for Oktay and his bench to learn how to clobber any of the opponents that CAF will hand them.
As Gor geared up for the Atletico clash, there were reports of go-slow in the camp following delayed payments. Respected Dennis Oliech even threatened to quit as his sign-on-fee is yet to be settled.
There was so much negative energy that Gor needs to avoid going into the last eight of 2019 CAF Cup, a direct responsibility by the management as Oktay pleaded.
“Every household has issues; you can’t run away from that. However, how best you deal with them matters a lot, especially when you have such a huge task ahead.”
Proper housekeeping stretches to wise management of the players as well as proper management of fixtures – domestic and league.
In the words of CEO Ludovick Aduda, “the ambition of current Gor Mahia Football Club to lift a CAF gong is not an illusion anymore.
The CEO of Tunisia’a Esperance conceded in 2018, saying eliminating Gor narrowly in the Champions League preliminaries meant winning the title.” That came to pass, just emphasizing how African powerhouses view the Kenyan glamour club.
Aduda charges, the self-belief must however sink among all stakeholders, including players, technical bench, management, fans, federation and the government if this will live to be seen soon.