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Mission Impossible For Gor Mahia?

Kenya Premier League defending champions Gor Mahia are in their own “mission impossible” this weekend when they take on USM Alger in the second leg of their African Champions League first round second leg encounter on Sunday afternoon (kick-off 16.00 EAT).

K’Ogalo lost 4-1 in the first leg away in Algiers and are now in search of redemption when they face the Red and Blacks who know well that they are strong favourites with one foot in the group stages.

The Steve Pollack’s coached side will have to win by at least three clear goals to be sure of advancing to the group stages of the tournament, something that has eluded them in the last two seasons.

A lot of uncertainties have plugged the club this week and are likely to unsettle the players.

On Tuesday the club chief executive officer Lavick Aduda told Nation that the 18-times Kenya champions were in deep financial crisis as players have now gone for two months without salaries and that the club needed around $20,000 to honour the match.

Apart from lack of finances, the Kenyan side has injuries, that have recently ravaged the squad, to worry about. Key men Gislein Yikpe and Francis Afriyie, who missed the Algiers match with injuries, are both yet to fully recover. This is the same case for striker Nicholas Kipkirui who has been instrumental for the side since the departure of Rwandese striker Jacques Tuyisenge.

Coach Steven Polack is refreshingly honest about Sunday’s clash against the most expensively assembled team in North Africa.

“We all saw what happened in the first leg, we can’t defeat USM with the kind of football we played today.  We played well in the first half but the second half things were really different. I will talk to talk to my players about it,” said Polack.

“My plan is to guide them not to concede a goal in the whole match but to try as much as possible to score goals, more so in the first half. I understand clubs from North Africa are used to playing attacking football which can give us a lot of pressure to defend as we attack, but we will give our best,” explained the tactician.

Sunday’s match will be the fourth meeting between the two sides in club competitions. In the past three meetings, Gor Mahia’s only positive result was a barren draw in a 2018 CAF Confederation Cup Group D match at Kasarani on May 16th, 2018, a game that many believe K’Ogalo should have won.

The return leg in Algeria on 26th August 2018 ended 2-1 in favour of the hosts- a result that eliminated Gor Mahia from the competition.

But whenever Gor Mahia meets teams from North Africa in Nairobi, the fans develop a mixture of phobia, zeal and motivation owing to the rich history that K’Ogalo have in the continental tournament.

In recent years North African sides have been returning from Nairobi in recent years without victories, something that USM Algeria is aware about.

Esperance de Tunis, Zamalek, Hussein Dey and US Ben Guerdane have played the East African giants in this competition before and none of them returned to the tip of the continent victorious.

Of course, Gor Mahia will no doubt convince themselves that statistics and records are nothing more than just numbers on a piece of paper with very little impact on the outcome of matches.

It should be remembered that they suffered a 2-0 defeat to RS Berkane sometimes back and that was as a result of the shoddy arrangements that the club had prior to the match.

Cup football is all about the little guys upsetting the big boys and despite the fact that on paper Gor Mahia stand no chance, USM Algers will have to focus and not underestimate their opponents as they did in their last visit to Nairobi.

USM Algers also have had their share of problems in the build-up to this game. Their players have gone for six months without salaries, and the fact that their coach might be on his way out, K’Ogalo would do well to not read too much into all that.

After all, when the whistle for kick-off is blown all the Red and Blacks will be thinking of is protecting their lead while hoping to catch Gor Mahia on the break and add to it.

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