NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 10 – Record 15-time Kenyan Premier League champions Gor Mahia are looking for a perfect start to the 2017 season as they seek to wrestle the title back from Tusker FC who beat them to the coveted gong in 2016.
K’Ogalo open their campaign away to newly promoted Kariobangi Sharks and having learnt their lessons from last season where they had a poor start, they are taking nothing to chance as they seek a 16th league crown.
“We have learned from what happened last season. This year our aim is to start positively and keep the momentum going till the final day. Our target is to reclaim the title and we know it won’t be easy,” skipper Musa Mohammed told Capital Sport.
The former league champions have had a torrid pre-season but they managed to redeem themselves by winning the KPL Super Cup last weekend, something Mohammed will spur them on into the season.
“We have prepared well and the confidence in the team received a huge boost when we won against Tusker last weekend. We are focused for this match which we don’t expect to be easy. Sharks is a good team and they will be coming to prove a point against us. Nonetheless, our aim is nothing but victory,” the defender noted.
Gor has not fared well against newly promoted sides in the recent past with some of their losses coming at the hands of Muhoroni Youth and Nakuru All Stars, all in their first years of top flight football.
Sharks has had a positive pre-season campaign, but heading into their first ever top flight match, they will be weakened with injuries suffered to four of their key players who will be sidelined for between four to 12 weeks.
Skipper Eric Juma underwent knee surgery and won’t be available till the second leg. New signings Masoud Juma, Cavin Odongo and Ebrimmah Sanneh will also be sidelined due to injury and will miss the Gor game.
Juma suffered a fracture during their pre-season friendly match against Ushuru and will be out for at least six weeks, Sanneh has an injured shin which will keep him out for four weeks while Odongo will be sidelined for three weeks with a knock to his ankle.
“I am not worried because of the injuries. We have a large squad and I know we will have good replacements. We have trained and prepared well for the opening game which will not be an easy one and the players are focused to make a mark,” Kariobangi Sharks head coach William Muluya has said.
Against Gor, the team will look on for the inspiration from the experienced Osborne Monday, signed from league champions Tusker FC as well as goalkeeper Robert Mboya who joined the side from Mathare United.
-Tusker’s title defence-
Meanwhile, holders Tusker FC will begin their title defense in Nakuru, also against another newly promoted side in Nzoia United. The Brewers are seething from a CAF Champions League exit at the hands Mauritian side AS Port Louis and last weekend’s Super Cup loss to Gor.
Head coach George ‘Best’ Nsimbe however says he is not under pressure despite the club’s results not being favorable.
“We have a new team and we are still trying to get the chemistry. I am not worried at all and I know we will start the season well,” Nsimbe offered.
Nzoia return to the Premier League after 12 years and head coach Bernard Mwalala is keen on seeing the side start positively, keeping up with the same form they enjoyed in the National Super League last season.
“It is a tough match playing the defending champions but we are determined to do our best. It is the first match of the season and our hope is to start with a good result,” Mwalala offered.
He has retained a huge chunk of the squad that ran through the NSL season losing only twice and has added the experience of two former AFC Leopards players, right back Edwin Wafula and striker Victor Omune.
In other matches to be played this weekend, 2016 title winning coach Paul Nkata will hope to translate the same luck to his new club Bandari as they begin their campaign at home to Nakumatt FC.
The dockers finished 11th last season and with Nkata’s recruitment, they will hope the fortunes change.
“We have a relatively good team which is able to get good results. I am only worried because we have not had a good pre-season and we haven’t played any big KPL clubs to test ourselves. But, we should be about good to go,” Nkata offered.
He is wary of a Nakumatt side that is endowed with experience despite this being their debut season in the top flight.
David Gateri who played for Bandari last season will be returning to the Coastal city for the first time after being snapped by the Nairobi-based side. Also returning to face his former club is David Naftali and Crispin Odula who skippered the side three years ago.
Nakumatt also recruited the services of former Tusker man Ronald Musana who returned to the country after a season-long stint back in his native Uganda with KCCA as well as Mathare United’s top scorer last season Obadiah Ndege.
KPL Weekend fixtures:
Saturday: Tusker FC v Nzoia United (Afraha Stadium), Bandari FC v Nakumatt (Mbaraki Complex)
Sunday: Mathare United v Thika United, Kariobangi Sharks v Gor Mahia (Thika Stadium), Sony Sugar v Chemelil Sugar (Awendo Stadium), Zoo Kericho v Posta Rangers (Afraha Stadium).