Gor Mahia will take on Nigerian champions Lobi Stars at Kasarani today, in a Africa champions League first round match. At stake is a place in the group stage.
The boys have an opportunity to make history. No Kenyan side has ever eliminated a Nigerian side in a continental tourney. And no Kenyan side has ever made to the group stage of the Africa champions league.
It will not be easy against Lobi Stars who are based in Makurdi, Benue state. They currently sit atop the league with 43 points, two ahead of their closest competitors Akwa United. And since the league was suspended due to problems with FIFA, Lobi Stars were declared the representatives in this year’s champions league despite the fact that there were still 14 matches to play.
Nigerian teams typically make it to the group stage of this competition. Nothing less than that is expected from Lobi stars. They proved their mettle when they eliminated UMS de Loum of Cameroun by a score of 2-1 aggregate. Prior to that they had beaten Enugu Rangers 1-0 to lift the Nigerian Super cup.
Lobi stars are motivated to show Nigerians that they are worthy of playing in this event. Many Nigerians are unhappy that Lobi stars were given the ticket to play in the champions league under controversial circumstances. They also want to redeem Nigerian football after the country lost a slot in the Champions league due to their recent under-performance.
Lobi stars was formed in 1981. They are sponsored by the state of Benue. They have only won the Nigerian league twice (1999 and 2018). The last time they participated in the Champions League was in 2000, and they reached the group stage.
As such, Gor Mahia are far more experienced in this event. And their coach Solomon Ogbeide is well aware of Gor Mahia.
“Of course we know that Gor Mahia are a very big club from Kenya but the business…is the match on the field of play and Lobi Stars are also a big team,” he told the official Caf website.
Ogbede went on to insist that he is confident that his side is equipped to beat the Kenyan champions.
“We are not worried because we have all it takes to do well on the continent. We have the personnel in terms of players, sound administrators and we have the support of government and people of Benue State; but above all, we have God which is our major weapon.” he said
Like Nyasa Big Bullets, Lobi also is comprised of local players. They don’t have any foreigners. After winning the league, they strengthened their side by signing key performers from other Nigerian teams: Kelly Kester, Samuel Mathias, Nojeem Olukokun and Sikiru Alimi .
Alimi who joined from Warri Wolves, is one of their key performers and will be looked upon for goals. He scored one of the goals against UMS de Loum.
The other dangerous player to watch is striker Samad Kadiri. He scored the winner when Lobi lifted the Super cup three weeks ago.
Nigeria does not have any high altitude venues. To deal with the high altitude of Nairobi, they decided to arrive as late as possible.
“We have heard a lot about Kenya and we are making effort to ensure that we are not affected by the high altitude there. We know that the game will come up in Nairobi and that it will hold at the Moi International Stadium in Kasarani which is a grass pitch,” said their Chairman Mike Idoko.
Gor Mahia for their part will be hoping to build on their overhwelming victory over Zoo Kericho a week ago. It has not been a happy few weeks for Gor Mahia having lost to Bandari in the league opener and lost to Kariobangi Sharks in the Super cup.
But the arrival of Hassan Oktay as the new coach has rejuvenated the players who are eager to impress.
Skipper Haron Shakava who scored one of the penalties that propelled Gor Mahia to this round is certain that Kogalo will put in a good show.
“We are ready for the game,” he said adding, “we want to win at home with a big margin so that we head to Nigeria with a good result in order to qualify for the group stage. This is our main focus to up our achievement from last season where we reached the Confederation Cup last 16.” said Shakava to the Nation
There is plenty of video of Lobi Stars available online so one hopes that coach Oktay has done his homework.
The return of Jacque Tuyisenge if fully fit would be a huge boost to Kogalo whose strike force has been blunt. Much will be expected from new signing Butambuze who has been possibly the best player on the side this season.
In midfield, Francis Kahata will likely be unavailable. Kenneth Muguna is injured. The burden of creating chances will fall on Samuel Onyango, Humprey Mieno and George Odhiambo. Ernest Wendo will anchor the midfield.
The match will be officiated by centre referee Slim Belkhouas from Tunisia Slim assisted by compatriots Khalil Hassani and Jridi Faouzi as first and second assistant referees respectively. Nasrallah Jaouadi will be the fourth official.