By James Magayi
Kenya league champions Gor Mahia are the only non- Tanzanian team in the semi-finals of this year’s CECAFA Kagame Cup taking place in Dar es Salaam.
Today, K’Ogalo face defending champions Azam while on-form Simba will face off with Jeshi la Kujenga Uchumi (JKU) in the other semi. Rwandan giants Rayon Sports and Ugandan champions Vipers tumbled out at the last eight stage leaving K’Ogalo to slug it out with the home teams.
Stakes are high for Gor Mahia as they plot for just their fourth regional title, the last of which came in 1983. Against a formidable Azam side, K’Ogalo will be hoping to exorcise bad memories of their last meeting in which Azam beat them 2-0 in the final to lift the 2016 CECAFA title.
Much has changed since and Gor Mahia has made considerable progress to warrant laying their hands on a regional title but it is still a fixture with no favourites. The Kenyan club seems to have held together in the wake of Meddie Kagere’s move to Simba. They shook off early stalemates to top their group, despite on fair play rule and came from a goal down to dismiss Vipers in the quarters.
Coach Dylan Kerr has used CECAFA to prepare for the upcoming CAF Confederation Cup tie against Yanga on July 18 by testing rookie center back Charles Momanyi who has been playing alongside skipper Haron Shakava at the heart of defence.
Gor’s first choice centre half Joash Onyango was red-carded in their last CAF assignment and will not be eligible for selection against Yanga, hence Momanyi’s fast-tracking.
Kerr is expected to stick with Momanyi for the Azam duel while largely retaining his usual starters. New signing Mustafa Francis could be relegated to the bench in preference to under pressure Ephrem Guikan despite the Burundi international scoring the winner against Vipers just a few days after signing for the Green Army.
There are doubts about midfielder Ernest Wendo who limped off in the quarterfinals with Lawrence Juma poised for a start against Azam. Locally, Azam have lurked in the shadows of Simba and Yanga but asserted their strength in regional tournaments. They pose the riskiest threat to Gor Mahia’s quest for a fourth regional title.
“We are taking each game at a time and giving our best in every situation. Of all the teams here we have played the most number of games but our fitness levels remain high although we have been tested by some very physical and swift sides.
The technical staff has done a great job of keeping the team fit and working and we’ll just give our very best,” Kerr said from Dar es Salaam.