Simba SC faithful may have had a hand in K’Ogalo’s colour choice for that day, or maybe they hadn’t. Record winners of this regional showpiece, it was only fair that they play a part on the opening day, even if only for the entirety of a Yanga SC torturous fall. So once again the red and white applauded-perched high up-from the seats of National Stadium Dar Es Salaam as the white of Gor Mahia strode from the tunnel, Dar Young Africans walked beside the Kenyan champions. As talk walked out of the door, action entered; and 2015’s most anticipated match would begin with the blow of Ssali Mashood’s whistle.
Dikir Glay and Innocent Wafula were, no doubt- surprise inclusions for Gor Mahia in this opener. While Glay’s had been a precautionary measure, Wafula had through the closing stages of the first leg of the Kenyan Premier League endeared himself to Frank Nuttall. In transient brilliance on the right wing, piled tones of solidity to his credentials for a start. Here’s someone who just weeks after making the big move to Gor, would score on debut, and in his own net. Clad in full white on this day, Wafula’s physical contrast as he walked out the tunnel is nothing compared to the player he had become after that unfortunate night against Sofapaka. Glay on the other hand needn’t have to worry at all, his first goal was just five minutes away.
As Young Africans kicked off the match and sent the ball wide, Donald Ngoma-deep on the left, saw every reason to impress his new employers, after all they don’t tow you all the way from Harare to come fire blanks in Dar. He would duel with Karim Nzigiyimana, right of the visitors’ last line that, with the first kick of the game, lined up with five men-Glay sandwiched between Musa Mohamed and Harun Shakava. Abouba Sibomana completed Frank Nuttall’s first openly defensive approach to a match.
Sometime last year, you may have had Gor Mahia by the scruff of the neck, raised him a couple of times even, brought him down and up again. You may have had him whimpering, on the brink scampering to safety. Mathare United had been there, whipped the champions’ tiny little bottoms. But just when you think have him, when you think he’ll now turn and walk away-forlorn. It dawns on you that you don’t have him, that is the time he comes at you.
Collins Okoth limped to the party and would sit out the tournament opener-inevitably tasking the burly Khalid Aucho to suppress an opposing duo of Haruna Niyonzima and Mbuyu Twite; the latter, barring skill, matched Aucho toe to toe. An unfortunate cross wandered into the presence of Dikir Glay as Yanga asserted themselves more, and in typical West African fashion, he took the piece of leather one time. When years of experience conspire to one ultimate mistake, even the stoutest of sportsmen know it will take a while to earn back trust. The clearance could never have been awful, I mean bad clearances end up in lost possession in dangerous areas-that may lead to a goal seconds later. This one headed right into the back of the net, Boniface Oluoch off his line could only escort it with the eyes. And Gor Mahia, just like in their last fixture before the tournament, trailed. This time far away from home.
Hans Van Pluijm was one up and Frank Nuttall had to dig deeper this time round. His wide right the exuberance of Wafula, and to the left- a man charting the least used role in the continent’s footballing history, Godfrey Walusimbi; that whimsical Ugandan. It is the left that would yield for Nuttall, Juma Abdul had taken enough punishment from Walusimbi and ploughed him down at 16th. Karim Nzigiyimana then arrived and stood behind the ball.
Now this is the machine the Scotsman had built, how fast and how efficient - no one could have guessed. From the eleven that took to the field on this day for instance, only three had featured for the club in the previous season. It was the kind of overhaul that set tongues wagging, for the fans, uncertainties mired with hope. For the naysayers; only doom. By this time though, Frank’s Magnificent Beast had taken flight, and the name Michael Olunga would lodge rent-free in the hearts of Young Africans fans.
As Karim lined up to the left of attack to take a routine delivery, many would have hoped-of course- that whatever comes off of it should land on Meddie Kagere’s head, the only sure way it would have gone in. A month before, the shamelessly flawless Rwandese had thumped in a Karim delivery in front of an expectant Kisumu crowd to dim Tusker FC. Why then not on this occasion?
The header would come, just not from Meddie. In securing their lines, Young Africans had tightened every bolt, cleared goalkeeper Ally Mustapha of any impediments, and then forgot about the lanky frame of Harun Shakava lurking outside the six yard. Three things, Shakava wheeling away in celebration, Glay desperately trying to catch up with his new found redeemer and finally-the ones we almost forgot; Simba SC fans flaring up in jubilation. It was game on.
Other than a blue-shirted Scot, confidence is the other thing you do not give to Gor Mahia and wait upon their flounder. A now confident team is what Young Africans had to contend with from the 26th minute- a man less already. Donald Ngoma perhaps too eager to audition for Hans, had been having a blinder of match. For the first time we might have seen Karim as just another right-back yet to meet the best opposition. Ngoma was torment, and in one of his mazy runs was taken out by Shakava just a yard or two from Gor’s right corner flag. With the linesman on the blind side, Shakava attempted to rise up-his left boot searing into Ngoma’s calf. Ssali Mashood never saw this, but he would see exactly what the tall centre-back wanted him to see. The now livid Ngoma shoved Shavaka backwards in retaliatory instincts and rose up to a second booking flashing on his face. The equally lanky Zimbabwean would cry his way to the dressing rooms.
Tied scores call for heroes, and though visibly despondent, Young Africans still had previous season’s league top scorer Simon Msuva and a little bit of Samba on their bench. Andrey Coutinho was the name then that made you sit upright if you saw him stand on the touchline. Gor on the other hand had rested Ali Abondo, and it wouldn’t have been surprise if Nuttall threw him in-the proverbial last straw that would break Young Africans. It was however to be Michael Olunga, a minute from restart and the gangly forward tore through Nadir Haroub and Kelvin Yondani, subduing both for pace before stretching Ally Mustapha for a ball he would never get even in the next century.
Decided yet? Maybe it had been decided by that strike, yes, maybe Simba SC fans would use this to feel good about themselves and their recent underachievement. They would take over the City probably, if only for a day. So captain Nadir Haroub stepping up in the 73rd minute for a penalty kick pointed to a spoilt party to Gor Mahia, and to a very large extent the red and white in the stands. Harun Shakava’s handball had been the birth of it. Now from one redeemer to another, Shakava looked to Boniface Oluoch to rise to the occasion.
It might have worked against Sherif Ekrami a year before in the CAF Champions League when Nadir stepped up for Young Africans’ first spot-kick but it sure enough wasn’t going to work against Oluoch. A miserable attempt at a panenka, the Captain had blown chances of the hosts running away with at least a point in this one. 2-1 it ended, and the battle of the year had been settled.
Kagame Cup miss
It may take a while before we witness such a duel, given Young Africans might miss this year’s edition due to continental engagements but it is one we aren’t forgetting any time soon. Eventual winners Azam FC ran out 2-0 winners over Gor Mahia in the tourney’s ultimate clash-having dismissed Young Africans in the semi-final. Yanga though, might take comfort in the retribution they served Azam domestically in the season that followed, clinching both the league title and the league Cup. As defending champions, Azam may be pleased to know that Gor Mahia is not leaving vengeance unto the Lord. They are taking matters into their own hands.
To the ever so belligerent Frank Nuttal, 2015 may have come too soon. Luck? I do not think so. For a team that had hardly played together for a month, the liquidity in movement as defense morphed into attack will-years from now- be heralded as the best we ever had in the local scene during our time.
Style defines an era, and for the blue-shirted Scotsman-though short- attack, attack, and when you are done attacking, attack again.