NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 10 – In the current Tusker FC squad, forward Allan Wanga is the only one to have tasted the prestige of playing in the group stages of CAF Champions League.
Wanga was part of the Sudan’s El Mereikh team that broke into the group stages of the 2015 CAF Champions League and he hopes the little experience he picked can come in handy for the reigning Kenyan Premier League champions as they seek to break the duck with their first assignment this weekend.
The Brewers host Mauritian champions AS Port Louis 2000 on Saturday afternoon at the Kasarani Stadium with their focus firmly on securing a spot in the group stages, with the path having been made easier after CAF increased the teams to 16.
“Playing in the group stages is a huge thing for both individual players and the club. It comes with a lot of pressure though because you have more fixtures, more travel and that can cost you the local campaign if you don’t plan adequately. But, as a player, this is something that I would really want to achieve with Tusker,” Wanga, who first played for the 11-time Kenyan Premier League champions in 2007 offered.
The allure of playing in the group stages does not only come with the prestige of a club historically achieving the feat. Financially, the stakes have increased after CAF signed a multi-billion shilling deal with petroleum company TOTAL as sponsors.
If Tusker gets to the group stages, they are assured of Sh57mn (550,000USD) from the CAF coffers whether they finish third or fourth in the group. If they finish in the top two and qualify for the quarters, they will be assured of Sh67mn (650,000USD).
Wanga says his side is ready for the challenge of the preliminary round, which if they go through, he will have a trip back to Khartoum where Tusker will play Al Hilal Omdurman, a side the striker faced several times during his time at Mereikh in the Omdurman derby.
“We have trained very well for this match. We are not taking chances in anything. We have to start by doing well against the Mauritian side on Saturday and then plan for the second round match. Everyone has the focus of getting to the group stage and I know we can do it,” Wanga added.
While Wanga tasted the prestige of playing in the group stages, Tusker captain James Situma came inches close in 2011 when he turned out for Sofapaka. Batoto ba Mungu were ousted in the third round after losing out 4-3 to Tunisia’s Club African.
It is that hunger that drives the utility player who has just returned from injury as he seeks to achieve the target of playing in the money bracket of continental football.
“During that time (2011) it was very hard because we had to play four rounds before the group stages. Now, there are only two and it is a realistic chance. It may look very easy, but it is hard. Personally I am motivated because I came very close to achieving that. This year, I hope luck is going to be by our side,” Situma said.
Head coach George ‘Best’ Nsimbe who has also come close to reaching the group stages with Tanzania side Azam and Uganda’s Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) also hopes he will achieve his dream.
“I have come close in previous times but this year, I see a good chance of making the group stages. The team is doing well at the moment. I am 75 percent done in terms of finding my perfect team and hopefully we start well at home,” the Ugandan added.
Tusker will hope the spirits of their 1994 team that went all the way to the final of the CAF Cup winners Cup will come alive as they begin their 2017 campaign.
Probable Tusker line up
David Okello, Marlon Tangauzi, Eugene Asike, Lloyd Wahome, Shafik Batambuze, Hashim Ssempala, Humphrey Mieno, Antony Ndolo, Noah Wafula, Danson Kago, Allan Wanga