NAIROBI, March 31- Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards will face off in Group A in a mini Mashemeji Derby when the Kenyan Premier League Under-20 tournament gets underway April 17.
The competition that is open to footballers aged below 20 years returns after a two-year absence following a sponsorship boost from league title sponsor SportPesa who have injected Sh18.6million into the tournament.
Defending champions Western Stima and Sofapaka completes Pool A that has been termed as the group of death.
Gor are one of the tournament favourites after having a consistent Under-20 side for the last two years that has seen Amos Nondi, who skippered the youth side last year promoted to the senior team and most recently named captain of the Harambee Stars Under-20 team.
The junior side supported by the Gor Mahia Fans’ Foundation won the Nairobi County League in their maiden attempt in 2014 and reached the final of the Nairobi Champions Cup last year.
“We have a strong team and our target of course is to win this tournament. It is not an easy pool but we have faith in the boys,” Gor Mahia chairman Ambrose Rachier said.
Leopards will be handled by club legends Ezekiel Akwana and Boniface Ambani with the latter saying his side is raring to go.
“We recruited a team about two weeks ago and we concentrated on getting players between 15 and 17 years. We have a three year project and this tournament will give us a good starting point. Our aim is build a team but if we go on and win the tournament it will be a plus,” Ambani stated.
Group B will have 2013 finalists Tusker FC, Mathare United, Chemelil Sugar and Posta Rangers while Ulinzi Stars, Sony Sugar, Ushuru and Bandari will battle it out in Group C.
Thika United, the 2011 champions headline Group D alongside City Stars, Muhoroni Youth and Kakamega Homeboyz.
City Stars will be handled by former midfielder Dennis Okoth who is also the senior side assistant coach.
“It might seem an easy group on paper, but we are not going to relax. Our initial aim is at least to get to the knockout stages and this tournament will be of importance to help us feed the senior team. If we get a capable player who will prove himself in this tournament then he might get a place in the senior team in June,” Okoth noted.
Due to the limited finances, the winner will receive Sh500,000 with KPL catering for food and accommodation of the teams throughout the tournament.
“We are in talks with the sponsors to see whether we can put this Under-20 contract in tandem with the league sponsorship so that they go hand in hand. At the moment we have a one-year partnership that will see us get Sh6.2 million per edition. We will have the other two in August and December,” KPL CEO Jack Oguda declared.
The league governing body decided to shift the tournament from an Under-19 age cadre to Under-20 to align with CAF and FIFA age grade tournaments.
However, the biggest impediment expected is the age verification process after the previous two editions were marred with protests of age cheating.
“If we are to achieve the full targets of this tournament, then we need to ensure we are strict on age. It will be of no use if I am to strive to bring players below 20 in my team and others flock overage players. I would like KPL to be very strict on this,” Ambani urged.
The tournament will run all the way to April 30 with KPL set to work on the fixtures and venues.