19 March 2019

Kenya: Gor Mahia Await CAF Quarters Draw

At a time like this last year, local champions Gor Mahia were cringing regretfully at any mention of the Caf Confederation Cup tournament knowing full well that they had lost, nay, thrown away a glorious chance to get out of its group stage.

The local champions had forced their way into the tournament's group stage at the expense of South African club SuperSport United, and were on the brink of qualification to the lucrative knock-out stage.

The team, peerless on Kenyan soil and with a 17th league title on the way, were firmly in control of Group D and just needed to avoid a defeat against lowly Rayon Sport of Rwanda in Nairobi to advance. They lost 2-1 to spectacularly tumble out.

Today the script is completely different.

The local champions are onto the last eight of Africa's second biggest inter-club competition, a feat that has eluded them for the last three decades.

K'Ogalo marched to the last eight on Sunday night after fending off a resilient Petro Atletico from Angola via a 1-0 win in a fiery clash that saw two of their players (Ernest Wendo and Shaffiq Batambuze) red carded and coach Hassan Oktay banished from the touchline.

Many will look back at Sunday's epic victory as the epitome of Gor's success, but it is the hard work of earning the quarter-finals berth that began in early December when they played Nyasa Bullets of Malawi in the preliminaries of the CAF Champions League match.

After that, Hassan Oktay's boys left nothing to chance, recording four more consecutive home wins at home against Nigeria's Lobi Stars, Zamalek of Egypt, NA Hussein Dey and finally Petro Atletico.

Their Confed Cup away record reads zero points collected, one goal scored and seven conceded, but no matter.

The green and whites are into the last eight and guaranteed Sh35 million for reaching this far.

They will of course need to await some sort of reprisal from Caf following an invasion of the pitch by jubilant fans after that high octane match on Sunday night.

Oktay, who is on his third month at the club, captured it so well in his post-match interview when he said that his boys' performance, in the face of the acute challenges is where the focus should be at the moment.

"Look. There are teams we have played against that have access to some financial and technological resources that we can only dream of. I was going into every game almost nil on information about the opponents.

"We had very limited resources when preparing for many of those games and the players had their own dissatisfactions, yet they put all that aside and won these games, to show everybody how seriously they should be taken. I think that's a huge talking point," the Cypriot said.

In Sunday's highly combative clash, Gor's moment of truth came in the 56th minute when Boniface Omondi was felled inside the box, for a penalty.

Ever reliable Jacques Tuyisenge slotted the awarded spot kick home to turn the sizeable sea of green at the stands into a roaring furnace of excitement. Could this be our day? You could almost imagine the crowd asking. Yes, it was as Gor made the quarter-finals stage for the first time in the modern era of the African game

The quarters draw will be held on Wednesday evening in Cairo.

The qualified teams are RS Berkane of Morocco, CS Sfaxien of Tunisia, Al Hilal of Sudan and Egypt's Zamalek who made it as group winners, and Morocco's Hassania Agadir, Zambia's Nkana, Étoile du Sahel of Tunisia and Gor who finished second in their respective pools.

The last time K'Ogalo got this far was in the 1992 Champions League when they beat Al Ittihad and Canon Yaounde in the first and second rounds before tumbling out in the quarter-finals via a 4-2 penalty loss to Al Hilal.

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