The Green Army, who yet again found themselves embroiled in travel hitches, are trailing ahead of the decisive clash in Lusaka
Gor Mahia are heading to Zambia knowing very well that a negative result will send them packing from the Caf Confederation Cup.
The Kenyan giants were stunned by Napsa Stars in the previous meeting in Nairobi after going down 1-0 and if they are to keep their ambitions of progressing further in the competition, they must perform superbly in Lusaka.
Napsa Stars came and faced K’Ogalo confidently and ended up winning the tie deep in the second half courtesy of substitute Daniel Adoko.
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Of course, the result was not desired, especially by coach Carlos Manuel Vaz Pinto, who was appointed to steer the club that was deep into a managerial crisis.
Firstly, his job was not going to be easy since he arrived at a time when Gor Mahia were involved in a sponsorship tussle with Football Kenya Federation over the StarTimes broadcasting partnership.
Secondly, the Green Army were under the guidance of an interim coach in Sammy Omollo, who has since been confirmed as an assistant, when they took part in the Champions League.
Omollo was urgently invited to steer the club after Roberto Oliveira Gonzalez was disqualified from overseeing the continental games as he did not possess the requisite qualification papers.
Even though Omollo guided Gor past APR of Rwanda in the first round, they were to tumble against CR Belouizdad when they fell to a 6-1 defeat in Algeria before a 2-1 home loss.
Consequently, the record Premier League champions were relegated to the Confederation Cup. The result was reflective of a club in a deep administrative crisis.
When it was revealed that the Lusaka-based outfit was their First Round opponents, many tipped Gor Mahia to outwit them and progress. However,, shockingly, the Kenyan champions fell in the first attempt to a well-organised Pensioners machine.
Napsa arrived early, trained in Nairobi as they waited for the material day to take on Gor Mahia and in the end were deservedly rewarded with the win. Their preparation was a stark contrast to Gor’s who were stranded in Nairobi barely 24 hours to the matchday.
After the game, much criticism was directed to the new coach, especially how he handled his substitutions. The former St George SC coach preferred to make changes in the attacking line even when it was clear Gor Mahia has lost the battle in midfield.
First, it was Nicholas Kikpirui, who has been a peripheral player at the club recently, who was withdrawn and his pace was taken by Samuel Onyango.
Tito Okello – who scored a double in a league contest against Western Stima as a substitute – came on alongside John Macharia in the places of Jules Ulimwengu and Alpha Onyango. Sydney Ochieng was brought on late for Clifton Miheso – who was arguably the best K’Ogalo man on the pitch, but Pinto’s roll of the dice failed as they could not even salvage a draw.
As Gor Mahia looks forward to the return tie in Lusaka, many questions linger; Is the coach to blame for the Nairobi loss? Did the bickering top officials contribute to the defeat? Did the players competently tackle their Zambian opponents? Where does one apportion blame, and what should be done before the second leg to salvage the continental campaign?
There are so many questions, with very few answers indeed.
After dominating the local scene for the last decade, many agree it is time for K’Ogalo to compete with their African peers. However, season after season, they have failed in both the Champions League and the Confederation Cup.
The elimination cycle has repeated itself for too long; Gor Mahia would win the league, get the continental slot to feature in the African premier club competition before being relegated to the Confederation Cup.
It has become a truly unwated tradition.
This time around, Napsa Stars lie in between their group stage ambition, but the million-dollar question is; do they have the requisite armoury to do the job away from home amid all the travel hitches?
However, there is an extra motivation for Gor Mahia to ensure they earn the last laugh against the Zambia side; two of their former players, George Odhiambo Owino – who described the current K’Ogalo as the pale shadow of their former selves – and Shaban Odhoji are currently with the African rivals.
Although the goalkeeper did not play in the reverse fixture, Owino did, and his class on the pitch could clearly be seen. Gor Mahia certainly know that no excuse will save them should they go down again, and Kenneth Muguna emphasised the need to go all out and tackle Napsa Stars head on.
“There are no excuses, we lost fair and square but we have a chance of redeeming our image and advancing to the next stage,” Muguna said. “They had their 90 minutes and capitalised on our mistake, we also have our 90 minutes to ensure we get the result we want to advance.
“The good thing is that as players, we already know what we are going for,” he added. “It is about business from the first whistle, and I am optimistic after the final one, we will be in a position to make it to the group stage.”
Will the players heed their captain and fight for a win? Or with they stumble and let the cyclic preliminary eliminations spill over into the current season?