Stuttering Kenya champions Gor Mahia play a season-defining match this Sunday against Cameroon champions New Star de Douala at Kasarani Stadium.
The first leg of CAF Confederation Cup play-off will give a true measure of just how much K’Ogalo have regressed since last season’s rollercoaster run in both league and continental assignments.
The two-leg tie bears a much-needed financial promise of Sh27.5 million and prestige associated with featuring in Group stage of CAF Confederation Cup alongside other African giants.
Enthusiasm is however, very low after Gor contrived to get out of an easy-looking Champions League play-off by conceding twice in the last 20 minutes away to Nigerian champions Lobi Stars in December. Gor had taken a 3-1 first leg advantage to West Africa only to crumble in the dying minutes of the game.
Against new Star, K’Ogalo face an even trickier opponent notorious of winning away matches then shutting shop on the return legs at home. The Cameroonians have already dispatched Vital O and Al Ahly Tripoli in the same style and now have Gor on their sights.
This unorthodox New Star trait coupled with the suspension of Gor center backs Harun Shakava and Joash Onyango leaves coach Hassan Oktay with a dizzying puzzle over both legs as it is unknown hen CAF will lift the duo’s bans.
In their stead, Oktay will deploy Charles Momanyi and Joachim Oluoch at the heart of defence against the Cameroonians. The duo have only played once this season and looked rusty against Posta Rangers in their midweek 2-1 triumph.
A third centre back available for selection is Pascal Ogweno, but the new signing from Kariobangi Sharks looked overweight and was substituted after 25 minutes against Posta Rangers. K’Ogalo therefore must find defensive solutions and Oktay might be tempted to start wellington Ochieng at right back at the expense of Philemon Otieno.
He played the role superbly last season but has turned into the weakest link in Gor’s defence so far this season. If Oktay sorts his defence then Mahia are likely to fare well in the tie.
The Turk admitted to still adapting in the country but is optimistic of his chances. “Everyday I am getting to know my players and the defensive formation needs a lot of tactical discipline. I am getting to know my players but all of them are improving with every training and match we play. Sunday is a big game and I rested some players against Rangers but others were dropped because of tactics,” Oktay said.
“The best we can do is win at home and get a good result away.
The players I have are very intelligent and respond well to any tactical changes so I’m confident of getting to the group stage,” he said.
K’Ogalo also appear short upfront as injury prone Jacques Tuyisenge is the sole striker available. New signing Dennis Oliech is not registered yet while Nicholas Kipkirui and Ephrem Guikan are also out of the Gor list presented to CAF.
Fortunately for K’Ogalo, winger George Odhiambo seem to regaining his form as he put in a good showing midweek to give Oktay options. Gor are likely to start Tuyisenge and Samuel Onyango upfront with Odhiambo and Francis Kahata playing out wide.
Humphrey Mieno may return to the starting team after sitting out the last two league matches with Lawrence Juma taking up his midfield position alongside Ernest Wendo. Goalkeeper Fredrick Odhiambo seems to have ousted Boniface Oluoch from the automatic starting role and is likely to be between the sticks.