NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 10- For close to two and a half decades, no Kenyan club has managed to manoeuvre into the group stages of continental football, a sad tale for a country that produced a continental winner in 1987.
That team that put Kenya into the map of continental might was Gor Mahia; beating Tunisian giants Esperance to the Mandela Cup.
It is that piece of history and passion for success that is pushing Gor Mahia head coach Dylan Kerr as he prepares his team to begin their continental journey on Saturday afternoon with a preliminary round tie against Equatorial Guinea side Leones Vegetarianos.
“I know the history of Kenyan teams not qualifying for group stages of continental football and that gives me a bit more incentive to ensure that this team breaks that run. I am also hoping that it gives players incentive as well to prove that we are good enough,” Kerr told Capital Sport.
He added; “It’s upon the players to create history; nobody remembers number two or number three. You have to be number one to be remembered. The players should take this chance now and create history.”
Gor have always had their journey end in the first round but with the CAF continental matches re-aligned beginning last season, K’Ogalo can have a shot at the group stages in two different ways.
First, they can take the direct route into the Champions League group stage by winning the preliminary and first round home and away matches. If they get past Vegetarianos, they will meet the winner between their 1987 opponents Esperance or ASAC Concorde of the Comoros.
A loss in this round will give them a second shot at continental football group stages, but it will be in the second tier Confederations Cup. They will head into a play off with 16 other teams who have progressed from the first two rounds of the second tier tourney.
“We know it’s tough but that is our target and we will work to achieve it. The spirit of the players in training has been fantastic this week. The energy and effort the players have put in is brilliant. However, sometimes the nerves and excitement of the game might work against us but I will speak to them to ensure they relax and enjoy the occasion,” added the coach.
The tactician expects a tough duel against Vegetarianos, though he says it has proved difficult to do any scouting on them as no information is available about the team that won the Equatorial Guinean league for the first time ever in 2017.
“I like to prepare for a game with some information on the opposition but now we can’t find anything. But that in a way it is a good thing because I can concentrate on us and ensuring we are strong enough,” he noted.
Kerr who led Gor to the league title with a 19- point cushion in his first season in charge last year hopes to make even more history, but concedes he is under immense pressure to deliver.
“The pressure is on me because did very well last year. To be honest teams need time to gel and especially when you have new players. But I am happy that we are doing well and the new players have worked so hard they are pushing the older players to work harder,” the coach further notes.
K’Ogalo has already started their season hitting the right notes; they beat arch rivals AFC Leopards 1-0 in the season opening Super Cup and kicked off their league defence with a flattering 4-0 maul of Nakumatt last weekend.
The tactician hopes they can keep the form running in Machakos against Vegetarianos and his skipper Harun Shakava has promised to lead the players from the front.
“It is a tough level of football but we are ready for it. We want to make history and make it into the group stages so hopefully we start with a win at home. I urge the fans to turn out in large numbers and support us,” Shakava stated.