Gor, Leopards braced for tasty Mashemeji Derby
- As the most decorated football clubs in Kenya, Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards cross swords in their first face-off this season, stakes will be beyond the three points on offer eternal rivalry fueling the atypical
- Factors for uniqueness of the largest derby in East Africa emanating from the recent events in both camps, spice up the Kasarani fiesta set for Saturday afternoon
As the most decorated football clubs in Kenya, Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards cross swords in their first face-off this season, stakes will be beyond the three points on offer eternal rivalry fueling the atypical.
Factors for uniqueness of the largest derby in East Africa emanating from the recent events in both camps, spice up the Kasarani fiesta set for Saturday afternoon.
The 85th clash of the match christened Mashemeji Derby, finds K’Ogalo in a better shape than Ingwe, drawing from the latest results but a look into a young season exposes both in-laws in different measures.
Leopards have made a wretched start, winning just two matches in 11 rounds leading to the firing of head coach Marko Vasiljevic on Monday. On the other side Gor have lost thrice in under 10 Kenyan Premier League (KPL) matches including a shock defeat to topflight returnees KCB.
Both Leopards and Gor failed to shine during the recent Super Cup staged in Tanzania, and the derby presents a golden opportunity for both sides to reassure their fans.
Trouble at the den
Just a day to the derby, a desperate measure by Ingwe in a quickly convened meeting bore an “AFC Leopards Rescue Team,” highlighted the heat at the den, which an eternal rival would love in the build up to vital contest.
The rescue team, has no incumbent Chairman Dan Mule, with his rival in the past election Maurice Amahwa leading the said recue, further underscoring the heat therein.
This heat, according to Leopards and Harambee Stars legend Mahammoud Abbas who is in the newly formed rescue team could be cooled with a victory over Gor, which he foresees.
“It is a lie to say the current form of AFC Leopards gives Gor an automatic win in the derby. This derby is not about how many matches a team has won or lost in the recent, but the material day attitude and zeal to defend the pride of the club. If Leopards can forget what has happened and just play, I will not be surprised at their victory,” Abbas, formerly known as Kenya one told.
Hassan Oktay, Gor’s coach is not flattered by Leopards status either, having watched his side fall to lesser celebrated sides.
“It’s going to be difficult, all derbies are tricky. I know AFC Leopards have changed coaches, there a new coach in place and he could come with surprises. Players would wan’t to impress him as he settles, it will be a difficult match,” Oktay offered, after Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Vihiga United.
That in his fifth day in office since appointment, head coach Cassa Mbungo has to face a side that silenced five-time African champions Zamalek 4-2, in the CAF Confederation Cup just on Sunday, increases the heat.
On the same day, Leopards were torn apart by ruthless Bandari in Mombasa (4-1), forcing Captain Robinson Kamura to address disgruntled fans confessing weakness much to the chagrin of the Ingwe faithful.
“Look, our strikers are not scoring goals. We are being forced to do their job. I’m the top scorer yet I’m a defender. How do you expect us to win in this situation…” decried Kamura outside the Mbaraki Sports Club, calming down the angry fans.
The exposed misfiring Leopards strikers, if keen, have noted the obvious mistakes that Gor defense and poignantly, goalkeeper Boniface Oluoch has repeatedly done costing them goals.
Squads on the see-saw
However, the K’Ogalo back-four led by skipper Harun Shakava, has arguably one of the best names to line up. On the right is Harambee Stras finest for the position Philemon Otieno, while the left is marshalled by Uganda Cranes man Shafiq Batambuze. Shakava at the centre, joined by Stars no-nonsense Joash Onyango completes a dreaded unit, on a good day.
Such is what lacks in Leopards defense, if learning Yusuf Mainge, average Dennis Shikhayi and Isaac Kipyegon; and Kamura are the men to guard a Gor goal-paochers. The four were paraded by Vasiljevic in the Bandari humiliation.
Though Mbungo knows well two men who could be handed the responsibility of poking holes in his defense, Rwandan marksman Jacques Tuyisenge and Burundi international Francis Mustapha who played under him at Police and AS Kigali, his opposite number Oktay’s has options.
Harambee Stars all-time top scorer Dennis Oliech, who will be making his mashemeji derby debut stands a menace as he was in his hey days that seem to be shooting back. Former Zoo Kericho ace Nicholas Kipkirui is finally grasping his former mojo too, at K’Ogalo. The Gor strikers, on the see-saw with Leopards’ Vincent Oburu, Eugine Mukangula and Jaffari Owiti contrast sharply.
The defense and striking potentials of the two statistically are underscored further by the goal differences posted thus far, Gor boasting of a superior plus seven (scoring 17 goals, conceding 10) while Leopards have a sorry minus six (striking 10, letting in 16).
While Gor is seeking to storm into top-two of the 18-team KPL with a win in the Saturday’s clash, Leopards are desperate to leap a step further away from the relegation zone, which now they avoid by only two spots.
Results going their way as far as second placed Bandari is concerned over the weekend, Gor will be breathing on the heels of current summit rulers Mathare United, a motivating factor to the holders after a slow start.
Gor are third with 19 points, Bandari on 21 while Mathare are on 24 while Ingwe at 15, have only 10.
Beyond the three points, pride matters, hence the warning that was publicly sent by Leopards fans at the Mbaraki Sports Club on Sunday: “We are pained by this loss to Bandari, but you cannot afford to subject us to this kind of shame in the forthcoming Mashemeji,” cautioned the fans who sandwiched Kamura in the forced address.
Leopards has not won a league mashemeji derby since 2016, then under the tutelage of Belgian Ivan Minnaert.
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