A star player will be missing from the Gor Mahia side when they face Nigeria’s Lobi Stars on Saturday in the reverse leg of the CAF Champions League first round fixture.
The combative midfielder Ernest Wendo will be a glaring absentee. He is suspended having picked his second booking in the competition in their 3-1 win over Lobi Stars on Sunday at Kasarani.
Nigeria’s Lobi Stars will be attempting a two goal margin win without conceding to advance to the group stage. Failure will see the side dropping into play-off for a place in the second tier CAF Confederation Cup.
For the Kenyans, they target an historic group stage qualification into the money-spinning Champions League. Gor Mahia, winners of the Mandela Cup in 1987 have never progressed to the group stages of the Champions League since the new format was adopted in 1997.
Their qualification to the group stages of the Confederations Cup last season was their first ever in the new era of CAF continental club football.
Their 26-man team is expected in Abuja later on Friday before taking a chatter flight to Enugu. The squad made a two-day stopover in Accra, Ghana.
The Kenyan side is being handled by a Cypriot coach, Hassan Oktay who is barely a month on the saddle. He might ink his name into the history books of Gor Mahia if he manages to avoid defeat to Lobi Stars.
It will be a follow up on Kenya’s success of a first
ever Confederations Cup group stage spot last season.
The tactician who joined Gor Mahia just before their preliminary round game against Nyasa Big Bullets of Malawi is confident his boys have what it takes to achieve the historic feat.
“When I came here, I knew the targets of Gor Mahia are big and my targets are also big. My objective is to see this team qualify for the group stages and one day soon, maybe to win the title. It is possible because we have a group of hungry players who want to do well and achieve big things,” Oktay said.
K’Ogalo, as the record 17-time Kenyan Premier League champions are known convincingly won the first leg 3-1 in Nairobi last weekend and though Oktay was disappointed that the scoreline wasn’t bigger basing on the chances they had, he knows they can achieve another win away from home.
“They are a tough team but we should have won by a bigger margin in the first leg. But we go away and we have to keep working hard. We need to improve a bit in the finishing and we will be okay. We have to avoid conceding first because that will put us under pressure,” the coach offered.
His sentiments were shared by the captain, Harun Shakava who believes the team has what it takes to get into the group stages and has cautioned his teammates not to lower their guard despite what looks like a comfortable first leg lead.
“They scored an away goal and that is something that will put us on our toes. If we can score first then I think that will calm us down. But it will not be easy. They are a very tough team and playing at home, we expect them to be even better,” Shakava said.
He added; “We know that we are on the brink of history. Last year we lost by a very slim margin to Esperance and we learnt our lessons. This time, we want to do better and I know we are capable as a team. We have worked hard and gained some very good momentum.”
The coach is lamenting the absence of Ernest Wendo, but he believes the squad is big enough to fill up the void and field a strong team in Nigeria.