NAIROBI, Kenya, July 19 – If there is one man who knows all about Sunday’s ‘Kenya Derby’ where another chapter of the legendary rivalry between Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards will be written, it is the formers’ coach, Zedekiah ‘Zico’ Otieno.
When Capital Sport caught up with him on Tuesday at Nairobi’s Moi Forces Academy where K’Ogalo were training for the match, he spent 30 minutes engaged in tactical talk with his side before meticulously laying out the training cones.
Nothing betrayed the immense pressure cooker any Gor or Leopard’s coach is presumed to be simmering under in the build-up to the game.
To Otieno, the last Gor Mahia captain to lift the league trophy in 1995, Tuesday’s routine was all about preparations for another fixture.
Indulged to wind back the clock to the days when Gor and Leopards fixtures used to be national fodder, Otieno reminisced, “It’s was a big and huge expectation for the players and normally it was brought by the fact that by that time, these were the big teams in Kenyan football. In fact the league was won by those matches.”
“When we used to play, if you beat AFC twice or beat them once and drew automatically you would be the champions since they were the only two big teams. If Gor won the league this year, AFC would do it the next,” he expounded.
He recalled what the 22 players used to have in their thoughts during the walk from the tunnel to the pitch before kick-off.
“The matches were good but tensed but that is the game every player wanted to play well, since if you played well in the match, you would be selected in the national team. That was the gauging match to see whether the team and the players were good, it was a huge, huge, match.”
Otieno, who assumed Gor’s head coach role from the assistant position at the back end of the 2009 season and led them to a whisker of the KPL title last season notes however, times have changed.
“As at now, it’s different since many teams have come up and the match no longer decided who win the league. So for us the match will be the same, we are not taking it differently. It’s only there is hype surrounding the match,” the former full back said of Sunday’s affair.
His opposite number, Jan Coops, the Dutchman who has been brought to bring the bite back to Ingwe is already on record saying he knows ‘nothing about the game’.
Extra spice has been added to the fixture after SuperSport, KPL’s broadcast partners lifted the live coverage ban of Gor that was occasioned by the rioting of their fans that caused the Top 8 semi-final against Ulinzi to be abandoned on May 18.
“Following assurances from Kenya Police and the club’s that all possible measures will be implemented to ensure the safety of fans and SuperSport production team, SuperSport has decided to bring game live,” the broadcaster’s Head of Broadcast, Gary Rathbone said in a statement on Tuesday.
“It’s always good for players to have that stage to be shown on SuperSport. Now that they are back, it’s a good thing but as a technical bench, our work was to prepare the team to play,” Otieno said in reaction to the news.
Despite their superior league position and the fact their rivals have only won a game in seven, the tactician said the intense rivalry between the two sides means there can be no outright favourite on Sunday.
“I have never taken any team lightly and AFC are no exception and there is this clout surrounding Gor Mahia vs AFC and whenever this two teams play, it does not matter which position the teams are, it’s about those particular 90 minutes.”
He added: “This is one of the 30 games we have to play and the three points are important. I’m aiming to win the league and after 15 matches on 27 points, we are in a better position to do it since I said I want to improve on last year’s position in the league.”
Last season, both teams traded identical 1-0 wins and Sunday’s fixture is a delayed affair since security assurances were needed for the fans after seven supporters lost their lives in a stampede last October the last time they faced-off.