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Can Gor Mahia still realise African ambitions after latest Caf exit?

12:51 GMT 25/12/2018
Gor Mahia line up before taking on Lobi Stars of Nigeria.
K’Ogalo failed to make their first-leg home advantage count and have dropped into the Confederation Cup again as a result

COMMENT    By Kunle Fayiga      Follow on Twitter

17-time Kenyan champions Gor Mahia have dominated domestic football over the last five years, winning the league in every year but 2016.

While they're a powerhouse at home, they've struggled on the African scene, with their latest setback being their early ouster from the 2018/19 Caf Champions League via away goals against Lobi Stars in the final qualification round.

Having sealed a comfortable 3-1 lead in the first leg in Nairobi, Hassan Oktay’s men could not make it count in the return leg in Enugu, with the away goal proving vital for the Nigerians as they won 2-0 and made it to the group phase.

It was a very disappointing effort for Gor Mahia, because all they needed was a draw to make it through. Yes, the away goal was always going to help Lobi, but the best Oktay’s charges would have done is to be solid at the back, keep possession, maximise opportunities on the counter attack and employ time-wasting tactics where possible.

Their away trip became a farce when they opted to camp in Ghana for two days, with coach Oktay revealing fears that Lobi Stars would have spied on them if they trained in Nigeria.

It’s even bad enough that the Pride of Benue sealed the deal at a venue that isn’t their traditional home after supporters of Gor threw shade at Lobi fans on social media, appearing confident of getting the job done in unfamiliar Enugu.

How appalling it was that a side making only their second ever appearance in the Champions League, and who hadn’t been in competitive league action since June, were able to dispel a decorated team that still finds it hard to navigate their way through to the group phase.

Last year, Gor also dropped into the Confederation Cup, and couldn’t progress out of a group featuring USM Alger, Rayon Sports and Young Africans.

Their best result on the continent came in 1987 when they won Caf Cup Winners Cup, now the Confederation Cup. Beyond that, the closet they’ve come in the Champions League was the quarter finals in 1992. In their last four apperances in the premier competition, they have failed to make it to the group phase.

In an exclusive with Goal after the game, Gor Mahia’s Chief Executive Officer Lordvick Aduda complained about police harassment on arrival at the Abuja Airport, accused Lobi Stars of denying them access to the pitch to warmup before kick-off as well as officiating bias.

It’s always an occurrence that the home team would deploy whatever possible antics to unsettle the visitors. Had Gor Mahia prepared for such, the story might have been different, but they are the ones riding on their own misfortunes now.

What then has gone wrong with the Nairobi-based side?

It is claimed that K’Ogalo do not take preparation for the continental competitions seriously because of the lack of support from the management. The players are owed salaries and allowances in arrears hence are less motivated to compete on the pitch.

That definitely is not good news to hear seeing that Gor Mahia are swimming in sponsorship deals worth millions of Shillings led by sports betting giant SportsPesa.

Sources revealed that the players had threatened not to play the fixture even before the first leg which would have given Lobi Stars a walk over, and the reason isn’t far-fetched in that the players believed if they had progressed, money earned from Caf (the sum of U$550,000) would be eaten up by the club board.

Could their second leg elimination have been influenced by these fears?

It should be emphasised that sides like TP Mazembe, AS Vita, Mamelodi Sundows and other Sub-Saharan African clubs have stamped their authority on Caf competitions in recent times, troubling the North African monopoly in the process.

It is time for East Africa to realise their untapped potential and begin to battle the big boys.

Gor, on paper, should be the flagbearers of the region's rise, but this latest setback represents a bitter disappointment.

They now need to step up, raise their standards, and not get dragged down by the kind of petty concerns that beset their first leg against Lobi. Otherwise, they will continue to get left behind, and Kenya's promise will continue to go unfulfilled.