Kenyan champions Gor Mahia face the biggest test of their season when they play away to Lobi Stars of Nigeria in a CAF Champions League first round return leg Saturday with stakes stacked so high for both teams.
Awaiting the overall winner of this two-leg tie is a place in the group stages and a Sh54 million windfall. For Gor, victory will hoist them back to the lofty pedestal as their peers in the continent and the money will go a long way in bridging the financial shortfalls dogging them each season.
K’Ogalo holds a 3-1 advantage over Lobi Stars, a factor that boosts the players’ morale despite their worrying away trend this season. Gor has lost their two away games so far to Nyasa Big Bullets of Malawi and Bandari, both by a solitary goal.
Encouragingly though, the team has improved and found the back of the net seven times in their last two games against Zoo FC and Lobi Stars.
Their biggest task is to fend off the Nigerian champions and hold on to avoid last season’s travails that saw them eliminated from the competition at the same stage by Esperance of Tunisia.
Plenty has changed for K’Ogalo who unlike last year, hold a two-goal advantage. A three-day training camp in neighbouring Ghana, a fully remunerated playing unit and a new coach—Hassan Oktay— who is itching to prove himself are ingredients Gor ought to capitalise on to waltz past Lobi Stars.
“I have seen the team improve day by day since I arrived. The players are very intelligent and that enables them to grasp the tactics and implement. We have also increased our tempo but it is not where I would love it to be. We will keep improving with every game,” said Oktay.
“In Nigeria, playing away will be difficult for us because conditions are different but the players can adjust and we are not going to sit back to defend. We must play football and win over there. The most important thing is reaching the group stages and we are headed there,” Oktay explained.
Lead striker Jacques Tuyisenge, who was hooked off in the second half of last weekend’s first leg victory at Kasarani, is available and will lead the lines in Nigeria. Tuyisenge opened the scores for K’Ogalo before Samuel Onyango’s brace sealed the win to give Gor a healthy advantage.
Preliminary round first leg hero Bernard Ondiek is the most notable absentee from Gor’s travelling squad. Goalkeeper’s Boniface Oluoch and Peter Odhiambo made the cut, leaving Shaban Odhoji marooned. Wellington Ochieng and Pascal Ogweno are the only defensive covers for Philemon Otieno, Shafiq Batambuze, Joash Onyango and Haron Shakava.