I still haven’t forgiven Gor Mahia for failing to make it to the group stage of the Confederation of African Football’s Champions League despite being in pole position with a two-goal, first leg cushion against Nigeria’s Lobi Stars.
They blew away the advantage, conceding two unanswered goals late in the return match against the Nigerians in Bauchi, with Austine Ogunye and Alimi Sikiru scoring in the final 20 minutes of the match (70th and 88th minutes) to scrape through past a bewildered K’Ogalo on the away goal rule.
And with the loss went millions of shillings that would have obviously transformed the Kenyan club giants and inspired the country’s game.
Qualifying for the Champions League group stage would have been a game-changer and much-needed boost for Kenyan football ahead of Harambee Stars’ return to the Africa Cup of Nations finals in Egypt in June.
Other than the gulf in prestige, there’s a marked difference in prize money between the two annual continental club competitions with the Champions League obviously the more lucrative with a winner’s purse of $2.5 million (Sh250 million) compared to a top prize of $660,000 (Sh66 million) for the Confederation Cup.
Finishing at the bottom of the group stage of the Champions League earns a club $550,000 (Sh55 million) while bringing the rear in the second-tier Confederation Cup’s groups will attract $165,000 (Sh16.5 million) for the club in question.
In other words, letting go the two-goal advantage against Lobi Stars was, at least, a costly Sh38.5 million blunder by Gor!
At most, they blew away Sh184 million, assuming they had the potential to go all the way in the Champions League, vis-à-vis the Confederation Cup.
Nonetheless, K’Ogalo are psychologically advantaged as they seek to save face in the second tier competition, a tournament they won in 1987 when it was then the Africa Cup Winners’ Cup, or Mandela Cup.
When Gor take on Angola’s Atlético Petróleos de Luanda (popularly known as Petro Atletico over the years) at the National Stadium in Luanda tomorrow, they will have the psychological edge over their opponents.
First, because by having defeated Egyptian aristocrats Zamalek SC 4-2 at Kasarani in their first round match in Group ‘D’, the mighty Gor exorcised the ghosts of north African football that have perennially haunted the Kenyan game.
Second, Sunday’s emphatic 2-0 victory over local arch-rivals AFC Leopards will have K’Ogalo travel in high spirits.
Coincidentally, exactly the opposite has visited the Petro Atletico camp. They continued to play second fiddle to north African opposition, losing their opening Group ‘D’ match of the Confederation Cup 2-1 to Algeria’s Nasr Athlétique de Hussein Dey (NA Hussein Dey).
Then last weekend, playing in their 77th derby, Petro lost 1-0 to domestic arch-rivals Primero Agosto in the Angolan “Girabola” league and, therefore, their coach Beto Bianchi will be taking to the field against K’Ogalo tomorrow on an emotional low.
Reports from Luanda indicate that Bianchi and his team trainer Mauricio Marquez have been spending the time remaining ahead of Wednesday’s match trying to lift up their players’ morale, working on physical recovery and perfecting defensive transition and offensive play at the team’s Luanda training ground.
Petro have won the Girabola 15 times, Angolan Cup 11 times and Super Cup six times making them no pushovers for K’Ogalo.
Three points will be crucial for Gor who need maximum points from the first round of matches to ease the pressure off the return fixtures and secure an early place in the knockout stage.
That’s why the club’s executives and technical bench must invest more in pre-match rituals like securing their team impeccable training, transport, security and nutritional arrangements ahead of away fixtures as these are won more often off the field of play, as K’Ogalo’s officials must have realised in Nigeria.
If I were in Gor’s situation room, or in coach Hassan Oktay’s shoes, I’d dispatch a team to Cairo’s Borg El Arab Stadium on Wednesday to monitor the other group fixture between Zamalek and NA Hussein Dey, and to also prepare ground for Gor’s March 10 Cairo visit.
Equally, K’Ogalo scouts should travel to Algiers to assess conditions around the “August 20, 1955 Stadium” which NA Hussein Dey share with El Annasser and Chabab Belouizdad.
Our diplomatic missions in Cairo and Algiers would gladly help in these important missions.
Without such espionage, our clubs shall continue to lose matches even before kick-off for the simple reason of logistical oversights. Performing well in these continental tournaments means more interest in commercial partners and scouts, which, in turn, translates to the meteoric rise in club and national team football standards.
Just like TP Mazembe have, over the years, been pivotal to the development of DR Congo’s football, we bank on Gor to uplift Kenya’s hitherto disturbingly low standards by going all the way in the Confederation Cup.
I bet Austin “Makamu” Oduor is tired of waiting for another K’Ogalo skipper to take after him and lift a continental trophy the same way he did at Kasarani in 1987 when he held aloft the Mandela Cup.
Gor biro, yawneyo!
Indeed, Gor are on fire, let’s hope Petro feel the heat and give way on Wednesday.