NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 22 – AFC Leopards and defending champions Gor Mahia clash for the 82nd time in their history, in what has now been christened as the Mashemeji derby which to many is more than just a game of football; it is a battle for pride and bragging rights.
While Gor are in the race for the Kenyan Premier League title, AFC Leopards only have pride and probably a top eight battle to fight for when the two sides line up at the Nyayo National Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
K’Ogalo, record 15 times champions of the KPL are six points off leaders Tusker and a win against their bitter rivals will see them back in contention for a fourth successive title but only if the Brewers fall to relegation-threatened Nairobi City Stars.
Ingwe are a distant 12th on the standings with 30 points and are hopeful of squeezing into the top eight.
“We have to win all the remaining four matches to achieve our target and I am confident we can do it. The game against Gor is one just like any other but we know how important this is for the fans. We will give our best,” stand-in coach Ezekiel Akwana said.
Akwana was not on the bench when these two sides last met in first leg, a match they won 1-0 courtesy of a late Lamin Diallo goal. But having been on the bench last season as an assistant coach, he knows the emotion associated with it.
His opposite number Jose ‘Ze Maria’ Marcelo will be taking charge in the derby for the first time, having arrived less than a month after the first leg.
“I know how important this match is for the fans. My staff and players know that we want to win this match. We will do our best and win it for the fans. I have played and coached in many derbies before and I know what to expect. I know the pressure,” Ze Maria said.
Pressure will be more on Gor especially after losing the KPL Top 8 title and drawing their last two matches.
“We work hard on the pitch, create very many chances but we haven’t been lucky in the final part of scoring. I hope against AFC we get that right and win,” the tactician offered.
Of the 81 times they have met, AFC leopards have won 28 times while Gor have won 23 with 30 of them ending up in draws.
In the last seven encounters, each side has won twice with the other three games ending in draws.
Gor have been boosted with the return to fitness of inspirational captain Musa Mohammed who was brought off at half time in last Wednesday’s match against Western Stima after suffering a concussion.
The defender who has played part in all of Gor Matches for the last three seasons trained with the side on Friday and Saturday and is in line for a starting berth.
They will however miss the services of Ernest Wendo who is yet to recover from an ankle injury picked up in the KPL Top 8 loss to Muhoroni.
But Ze Maria will have options with Collins ‘Gattuso’ Okoth having returned from a self-imposed exile and played the final 30 minutes of the Western Stima match on Wednesday.
With Anthony Mbugua having struggled to assert his authority in the middle of the pack when handed a starting berth in the Western Stima match, Okoth looks a definite starter especially with his experience in not only the league but derbies.
AFC Leopards will miss the services of Ugandan winger Allan Katterega who is serving a one match ban after being red carded in the side’s 2-2 draw away to Ulinzi Stars.
They will also be without defender Jackson Saleh who cannot play as he is on loan from Gor Mahia, a side he joined at the start of this season from AFC.
They have however been boosted with the return to fitness of midfielder Bernard Mang’oli who was substituted after quarter of an hour in the Ulinzi match.
In the absence of Khalid Aucho, Gor have missed their spark that pushed them to an unbeaten run last season. This term, they have only relied on their prowess from the wings but the return of Okoth promises to make them strong in the middle of the pack again.
A huge battle for possession and game control is expected between Mang’oli and Okoth, both experienced players who in their prime have been the backbone of their respective teams.
Jacques Tuyisenge who started life at Gor with a bang scoring eight goals has not seen the back of the net in 13 games while his strike partner Meddie Kagere is yet to score since his debut goal in a 1-1 draw against Kakamega Homeboyz in October.
With the absence of Saleh, Kagere and Tuyisenge who are expected to partner again in attack will hope to thrive especially with the possible replacement Yakubu Ramadhan being short of match fitness.
AFC Leopards will rely on the speed of their wingers Jack Bruno and Simon Abuko with Mungai Kiongera and Jackson Saleh possibly the men to get the goals upfront.