Ksh.54m at stake as Gor, Lobi clash in Champions League
Having missed a Caf Champions League group stage spot by a whisker last season, Kenyan champions Gor Mahia have a chance yet again to leap into the lucrative bracket with a victory over Nigeria’s Lobi Stars on Sunday.
While it may be viewed as a two-legged fixture with Sunday’s Kasarani clash being the first, a keen learner of the game knows Gor can book their ticket to the Ksh.54 million arena with a solid win at home.
The record Kenyan Premier League (KPL) champions failed to do so in a similar stage last season, drawing 0-0 at home against eventual champions Esperance of Tunisia before agonisingly exiting by a solitary goal in the rematch away to Tunis.
Though then head coach Dylan Kerr has since left K’Ogalo, the rest of the Kenya’s glamour club’s family knows just how important it would be for a convincing result against Lobi.
Unfamiliar foe to Gor, Lobi will be the first Nigerian side to be hosted by the former in a continental challenge since 1980, in the second round of the African Champions Cup (the predecessor of today’s CAF Champions League).
Gor had beaten Bendel Insurance 2-1 away in Nigeria with goals by George Yoga and legendary captain Austin Oduor. Bendel however went on to win the return leg 3-2 at City stadium and qualified on the away goal rule.
Captain Harun Shakava believes Gor can do better than last season, against all odds after starting the season slowly with defeats to Kariobangi Sharks (1-0 in the KPL Super Cup) and 2-1 to Bandari in the league opener.
“This is a different match, with a different approach and a different opponent. The past results should not be overemphasized in this context. We gave a good account of ourselves against Zoo Kericho which should be a motivation as we take on Lobi Stars,” said Shakava, who led K’Ogalo in dismantliy Zoo 4-0 in the midweek.
Newly appointed head coach Hassan Oktay will be in charge of Gor as the official coach in a Caf match for the first time, although he oversaw Gor’s hard earned win over Nyasa Big Bullets of Malawi via penalties a week ago in the preliminaries.
He was on an interim capacity during the Blantyre enormous duty, and his confirmation should be another factor for Gor’s motivation in the duel.
His Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Ludovick Aduda backed him to do well, reminding doubting Thomases Gor started slowly last season only to go all the way to the Caf Cup group stages.
“We are as strong as we were last season. We are not any far from achieving same or even better results. At this stage we were relegated to the Confederation Cup but we could be going past this if we beat Lobi. It will be difficult match but we have played harder matches before, especially against Esperance who went on to win the Champions League,” told Aduda earlier after Bandari’s loss.
If Rwandan international Jacques Tuyisenge will be fit enough to play the Nigerians, Gor will have a reason to celebrate as brace hero in the Kericho game Ephrem Guikan is ineligible to play.
Although Francis Mustapha and new signee Erisa Ssekisambu aee availbale, Tuyisenge was the club’s top scorer in the continentals last season with four goals, thus his experience will be key.
Lobi Stars head coach Solomon Ogbeide has already confessed Gor is a giant drawing from the continental club football history, while exuding confidence history will matter less in the match.
With fellow Kenyan representatives on the African stage at the lower tier Kariobangi Sharks holding giants Asante Kotoko on Saturday December 15 at the Moi International Sports Centre Kasarani, challenge is on Gor to fly the national flag even higher at the same venue, from 4:00pm.