It's 'Mission Impossible 2' For Depleted Gor In Berhane Confed Cup Clash

Apr 06 - by Mutwiri Mutuota for SportPesa News

Depleted SportPesa Premier League champions seek to establish first leg advantage at MISC Kasarani in the first leg of their quarterfinal clash without five suspended key players and head coach Hassan Oktay

Dennis Oliech (C) of Kenya's Gor Mahia scores against Egypt's Zamalek during their CAF Confereration cup match at Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi, Kenya, on Februrary 3, 2019. Kenya's Gor Mahia won by 4-2 against Egypt's Zamalek. PHOTO/AFP

  • "This is a contest where moments become memories and Gor Mahia are always obliged by history to defend its name within football circles, because objectives have certainly changed since the club tasted the sweetness of continental football again
  • Gor became not only the first Kenyan team to make the quarters of the second tier continental club competition but also the only club to ever win a CAF match with nine players
  • Without them, the spotlight will fall heavily on Dennis Oliech, the record Kenya international goal scorer, who ended his two-year hiatus to sign with Gor to lead the chase for the goals

NAIROBI, Kenya- "This is a contest that we are looking forward to. A contest that means a big deal to Gor Mahia FC, Kenyan football and all football lovers. It is a contest that will define Gor Mahia's destiny at the big stage of the CAF Confederations Cup.

"This is a contest where moments become memories and Gor Mahia are always obliged by history to defend its name within football circles, because objectives have certainly changed since the club tasted the sweetness of continental football again.

"It is a chance to watch the traditional Gor Mahia, a chance perhaps, to watch the vintage Gor Mahia. At Gor Mahia, we will always be defined by the ability to overcome the impossible."

That was the part of the stirring promotional message SportPesa Premier League (SPL) champions, Gor Mahia FC posted on social media urging their faithful to rally behind them on Sunday when they host Morocco outfit, RS Berkane in the first leg of their CAF Confederations Cup quarterfinal at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani.

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The most decorated club in Kenyan football face the sternest test yet of their credentials in their pursuit of a first continental success since 1987 when their legendary side swept to the now defunct 1987 CAF Cup Winners Cup (Mandela Cup) when they welcome the Moroccan cup holders without five suspended stars and their head coach, Hassan Oktay, in the dugout.

Retired club great, Zedekiah 'Zico' Otieno who lifted the 1995 domestic league title with the club as captain will take temporary charge in the dugout hoping to lay a solid foundation of another glittering chapter in the history of the team that boasts of 17 league, 10 domestic and three regional titles and of course, the only Kenyan outfit to own a continental trophy.

The mission on paper is simple, build a healthy first leg advantage to carry to Morocco and defend it in the return leg two weeks later to complete what would be a most improbable victory with odds stuck so heavily against them.

Indeed, Gor need to overcome the impossible to continue their 2018/19 CAF Confed Cup fairytale run to make the semis after putting together what can be termed as a latter day football miracle to get to the quarters in the first day.

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Needing a home victory in their final group game against Angolan titans, Petro Atletico de Luanda on March 17 to make the Confed Cup last eight from a tight Group D, Gor scrapped to a 1-0 victory where they were forced to play with nine men in the last 15 minutes in what was a stoic, gutsy but ultimately, costly performance. 

Brought down

The SPL winners finished second behind five-time African champions, Zamalek FC of Egypt on head-to-head record after both finished tied at the top on nine points from six games.

Rwandese forward Jacques Tuyisenge stepped up to convert the winner from the spot in the 58th minute of a bitterly contested affair at Kasarani after Boniface Omondi was brought down in the box.

Gor became not only the first Kenyan team to make the quarters of the second tier continental club competition but also the only club to ever win a CAF match with nine players. 

“I have never been as proud of my players as I am today. We were disadvantaged but we played our hearts out and we are grateful that we came out on top. We played like warriors,” Oktay who also received his marching orders for vehement protests against decisions he deemed were against their side stated at the time.

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CAF however, have no room for sentiment and the continental governing body suspended five key players ahead of the Berkane clash for disciplinary issues in the bitter aftertaste of one of their most famous victories.

Club tournament top scorer Tuyisenge who has notched five in the current Confed Cup campaign, goal keeper Fredrick Odhiambo, captain Haron Shakava, Ugandan wing-back Shafik  Batambuze and Ernest Wendo will not be available for the SPL champions on Sunday.

Batambuze and Kenyan midfielder Wendo were sent off against Berkane and were suspended for two and three games in that order, the latter having picked up two booking previously in the competition.

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Tuyisenge will miss both legs of the quarterfinal for receiving his fourth yellow card of the Confed Cup while Odhiambo, Shakava and their coach Oktay will sit out the home leg of the Berkane clash.

Without them, the spotlight will fall heavily on Dennis Oliech, the record Kenya international goal scorer, who ended his two-year hiatus to sign with Gor to lead the chase for the goals. 

Since his return, the former Harambee Stars captain who was written off as a spent force in some quarters when he made the sensational decision to join the domestic titans has proved to be a hit, netting nine times- the latest a brace in a 4-0 thumping of Zoo Kericho FC on March 27.

One of his strikes came in their stirring 4-2 victory over Al Ahly in their opening Group D match where 'The Menace' rounded off the stunning upset of the Cairo heavyweights at Kasarani, 21 years after his late brother Steve Okumu scored against the same competition and at the same stadium in a CAF tie.

Creative forces

If chosen as expected to start owing to the importance of the fixture with most of his appearances this far coming off the bench, Oliech will likely be partnered with former Zoo star, Nicholas Kipkurui, who is fast becoming a hit among the Green Army in his first season at the club. 

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With his namesake suspended, Peter Odhiambo is set to get the nod in goal ahead of experienced Kenyan international, Boniface Oluoch, while Joash Onyango is expected to marshal the back four in the absence of Shakava.

Kenya internationals, the mercurial Francis Kahata and Kenneth Muguna who has since rediscovered his form upon returning to the club from Albanian side, FK Tirana are available as the creative forces in midfield.

Yet again, Gor's build-up to another crucial CAF clash has been peppered by reports of unrest in the squad over unsettled arrears in bonuses accrued from last season with claims players threatened to boycott the Berkane fixture unless their dues were settled.

However, the club confirmed they were paid their salaries on Friday as it seeks to clear the outstanding bonuses with some owed as much as KSh120,000 according to some accounts.

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Traditionally, Gor thrive on chaos and adversity- mirroring the state of Kenyan football as a whole- and on Sunday, the current crop that is seeking to emulate the 1987 team that swept to the treble- league, domestic cup and CAF glory- has the chance to send their passionate and vociferous fans into orbit yet again. 

Gor (44), who have established a seven-point lead at the summit of the SPL with a game in hand on their closest challengers, Sofapaka FC are well on course to clinch their record-extending 18th domestic crown after playing 19 games and the feeling among their passionate supporters who will undoubtedly turn Kasarani into a sea of green is time to conquer Africa yet again has come.