In one of the epic clashes in the CAF Champions League this year, Kenyan giants Gor Mahia take on Club Esperance of Tunisia in an eagerly awaited titanic clash at Kenyatta Stadium on Wednesday 7 March.
Both teams will approach the game with an equal sense of valour and caution, each side having felled the other at one time or the other. Esperance it was that Gor Mahia eliminated on their way to their 1987 historic cup win. Twenty years later, Esperance felled Kogalo on the way to trouncing Mamelodi Sundowns to cement their position at the zenith of African football.
All that will count for nothing on Wednesday. A lot has happened over the last year in both camps. Here at home, K’Ogalo’s ambitious and focused chairman Ambrose Rachier has broken the bank to ensure one of the best assembled armada in recent years.
It boasts of a team of local and regional stars looking to fill the void left by the likes of Michael Olunga, Musa Mohamed, Khalid Aucho and Ali Abondo all of whom have turned professional. Eventually, Rachier’s vision is to provide talented players with a chance to showcase their talent while the ultimate aim is to join the bigger leagues. It is an ambition those with the right level of mental strength would not want to squander.
Gor Mahia players must understand there is no better scouting ground for European scouts than the AfrIcan Champions League. This week, Esperance stands between them and the huge cash returns due in the group stage. Beside that they will have a chance to showcase their skills at that level should they sail through to the next phase.
To achieve this vision will require more than luck and no one understands this more than coach Dylan Kerr and his technical team. K’Ogalo’s pre-season training looked well timed to shape up the team but a bad league schedule has come with a number of injuries to key players, a situation that could worry Kerr.
In Northern Africa, the home federations do all they can to bring pride home, including assisting teams in such tournaments to get top players from rival home teams on short loans. Such players stay on depending on the advancement in the Champions League.
Back to the game, those who have followed K’Ogalo over the years know that big matches will require big decisions and the versatility of all players will be crucial. It may not be business as usual and whoever is given a call should put his best foot forward.
Such matches being a different ball game form league football, if I were in Dylan Kerr’s s seat I would tweak my line up for this occasion to provide adequate counter to the marauding Tunisians. The emphasis would be on an uncompromising defence, stable and compact mid and pinpoint finish if progress is to be made.
Despite his recent howler against Kariobangi Sharks and casual looking approach, Boniface Oluoch remains one of Kenya’s top goaltenders on a good day. The K’Ogalo keeper will be relied upon to provide his top drawer saves that have ensured the trophy shelf at the team is well stocked over the recent years.
In the absence of the experienced Burundian International Karim Nzigiyimana, and with Wellington Ochieng injured, Onguso will be expected to provide cover. In a match of this magnitude it is important he provides adequate cover giving minimum mobility to the fleet footed Tunisian wingers who are good at short wall passes and chips to their key strikers. He will be relied on for both zonal and man marking
Walusimbi needs no instructions on coverage, cut off and build up. He is an experienced player with 88 caps for Uganda. Good on the cover and deadly on the offence, Walusimbi adapts to the contrasting roles like fish in water. He is good with free kicks and packs the level of experience and guts required for a match of this calibre. Should the coach use him offensively, there must be adequate cover to avert counter attacks.
Harun Shakes Shakava is another defender whose experience at club and country level will be crucial. Good in defence and deadly in the air, he is one of the free scoring defenders in the KPL. My advice is that he be required to play safe and only venture upfront for set pieces.
Joash Poison Onyango
The former Western Stima man Joash Onyango has already earned his first call up to the national team and with proper nurturing will be soon be an accomplished player. What he lacks in finesse, is covered by his high work rate, timely tackles and superb cut offs. He is a typical, no frills defender in the mould of Vincent Kompany.
Since joining Gor Mahia and walking into the first team from Ushuru, Philemon Otieno has showed what oozing with class means. It will be key to start him if Kerr wants to go into attack mode. Indeed this is the only language both Kerr and Philemon understand. He will be key whether zeroing in on the Tunisian midfield, spraying passes or just tampering the tempo. Whatever role he will be deployed in, fans are sure of an entertaining evening from the young lad.
If there’s a soldier in this team it has to be Meddie Kagere. He is a deadly striker and winger adept at reading the game. He also enjoys the supporting midfield cast, and will certainly form part of the offensive armada this week. A national team material, he misses out on the Amavubi team due to nationality mix up, having featured for the junior Uganda Cranes (U18).
Kevin Ade Omondi
Kevin should be manning the inside right position. A deft juggler who cuts through opposing defences like a hot knife through cheese, he will be at the center of every move. On a good day he will be distributing, shooting and dummying. Should he find his feet that evening the Tunisians will be in for a long evening.
The Rwanda captain is one of Dylan’s most trusted lieutenants, having earned respect through sheer hard work and merit. Rallying from an injury that saw him miss over half a dozen games last season, he mounted a late rally to be among the league’s top scorers last year.
Fans hope he will be fully fit on the big day. On this occasion he must be reminded to stick upfront to save energy and provide the necessary burst of energy when needed. He is a man who knows his job.
If games could be won on technical play alone, then Francis Kahata would sweep the medals. The Kenyan regular is adept at midfield build up, pulls deft moves and dribbles. He will play positions interchangeably with Philemon, Kagere and Tricky Daddy. He is also a master of dead ball situations.
George Blackberry Odhiambo
Another big game player who will have to be at his best on the day. He is a player who is daring to the core and capable of leading a destruction mission single handedly. As a fleet footed midfielder, he is equally effective on the right and left foot. He must be given freedom to roam the wing and do what he does best.
This would be a superb line up to send Esperance packing but who knows. After all the Gor bench has other equally capable players waiting on the wings if called upon.