A fight between two caged lions

By alex wafula
May 05, 2017
  • Gor Mahia Timothy Otieno against Bernard Odhiambo during training. (Photo by Shutterspeed)

  • AFC Leopards Andrew Tololwa with teammates during training. SNA. File Photo)

Jose Marcelo Ferreira, the Gor Mahia coach has perhaps summed it up well by saying: "It will be a fight between two caged lions, scrambling for only one piece of meat."

That piece of meat happens to be not only three points on the day, but bragging rights that would extend until the next derby.

Perennial rivals Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards meet on Sunday afternoon at the Nyayo National Stadium in the Mashemeji Derby, a match that will highlight week nine of the 2017 Kenyan Premier League season.

So important is this fixture, regarded as the signature of the country’s top tier that the under-rehab Nyayo Stadium was opened conditionally to host the two rivals.

The match had been slated for Afraha Stadium in Nakuru, but was moved after concerns were raised about the venue's limited 5,000 seater capacity.

Both teams have had a positive start to the season and are separated by only two points on the log. Gor Mahia are second with 16 while AFC Leopards are fourth with 14.

“The derby is always a different match with a lot of pressure. Yes, there are three points to be won just like in any other match but the dynamics around this game and the effects of the result make it very different,” Gor’s Ferreira told Sports News Arena after his side’s training session on Thursday evening.

“We want to win the league and when you want that, you have to win against AFC Leopards. They are our biggest rivals,” he added.

Ferreira already has some pressure on his shoulders after K’Ogalo lost 1-0 to Mathare United last weekend. To appease the Gor fans, he simply has to win the derby.

Performance against Mathare was below par

The coach conceded that their performance against Mathare was below par but remains confident they can pull up when it matters most.

“I have watched AFC Leopards and they are a very good team. It will be a tough game, not just because it is a derby but because all teams are good. Our mentality remains the same, we are going there to give our best and win,” the coach asserted.

The Brazilian will be scratching his head over the fitness of striker Jacques Tuyisenge who has struggled with a knee injury picked last weekend and sat out of training on Thursday. But, he will be boosted by the availability of Kenneth Muguna who was absent last weekend.

AFC Leopards also want a win. Coach Stewart Hall will be handling his first Mashemeji Derby. The British tactician is unfazed by the magnitude of the fixture and maintains a comfortable frame, confident his side will come off with maximum points.

“Derbies are nothing new to me. I have been in many before and I don’t think especially any comes bigger than playing Simba or Yanga in Tanzania. I think we are ready for this match and we will go in to get all the points,” Hall stated.

He will only miss the services of wingback Dennis Sikhayi who is still recovering from a broken metatarsal. Mungai Kiongera who played 45 minutes of last weekend’s 1-1 draw with log leaders Posta might be in line for a first start after fully gaining fitness following injury absence.

It will also be a tactical battle on the pitch with both teams using the 3-5-2 system.

The biggest load of collision will be in the centre of the pack. AFC Leopards has been using a three man axle, one that has been their biggest strength.

Technical approach

Gor have been fully utilizing the crossing ability of Karim Nizigiyimana and Godfrey Walusimbi plying on the right and left of the Gor side and this is a particular point of concern for Hall.

“We know very well that they are players who can use their width well and we have to address that. We cannot allow them to bring in crosses but one thing I am happy with is that we have a defense which is quite good in dealing with aerial danger,” he offered.

Hall will also be coming up against one of his former players, Rwandese Jean Baptiste Mugiraneza, a player he coached during his stint at Azam.

Last season, both teams shared a win a piece. AFC Leopards won the firstleg 1-0, breaking Gor Mahia’s unbeaten run of 35 matches that had stretched back to 2015. Gor were smarter in the second leg, winning 2-0 in one of their best performances of the season.

Overall, over the last 16 meetings between the two giants, Gor Mahia has won seven times and drawn four, losing only five times.

Meanwhile, week nine starts early with two fixtures lined up at the Kenyatta Stadium on Friday.

Mathare United will host Bandari in the early kick off with Kariobangi Sharks playing Sony Sugar later. Mathare go into the fixture beaming with confidence from last weekend’s win over Gor, their second of the season.

Francis Kimanzi, the Mathare coach will be serving his last match off the touchline after his initial six-match ban was reduced to four by the Independent Disciplinary Appeals Committee.

Already he has been off the last three matches. His assistant Salim Ali will remain in charge. They will be gunning for three points with an ambition of creeping up into the top eight, but Ali knows it will be a tough call against a Bandari side loaded with experienced players.

“It will be a tough match but I believe talent will get one over experience. We have a group of very talented young players and I am confident we can win that match. Our confidence is high at the moment and if we can keep up the same spirit, it will be great,” Ali noted.

Posta Rangers face a stern test in Nakuru

Meanwhile, log leaders Posta Rangers will face a stern test in Nakuru when they take on a high-flying Sofapaka.

Posta Rangers are the only unbeaten team this season while Sofapaka have not lost since their opening day 1-0 slump at the hands of Sony Sugar.

With a two point buffer at the top, Sammy Omollo’s men will have their sights on picking all three regardless of the result Gor posts against AFC Leopards on Sunday.

Once again, Omollo will be relying on his water-tight defense that has been breached only twice this season. But worrying enough, they have only scored seven goals in eight matches.

They will be without midfielder Joseph Mbugi who is serving a one match suspension after seeing red in their last match against AFC Leopards.

Coach Omollo will not have so much to worry about with Joseph Kuria and Moses Otieno both at his disposal as cover.

KPL weekend fixtures. (Kick off 3 p.m. unless stated)

Friday: Mathare United v Bandari (2 p.m), Kariobangi Sharks v Sony Sugar (4:15 p.m. – Kenyatta Stadium, Machakos), Nzoia Sugar v Nakumatt (Sudi Stadium, Bungoma).

Saturday: Posta Rangers v Sofapaka (Afraha Stadium, Nakuru), Chemelil Sugar v Muhoroni Youth (Chemelil Complex), Tusker FC v Kakamega Homeboyz (Ruaraka Complex).

Sunday: AFC Leopards v Gor Mahia (Nyayo Stadium), Thika United v Ulinzi Stars (Thika Stadium), Western Stima v Zoo Kericho (Moi Stadium, Kisumu).