Kenyan champions Gor Mahia and their Algerian counterparts USM Alger duel in the first leg of a crucial CAF Champions League group stage-clincher tonight in Blida, Algeria.
It is one year and fifteen days since Gor Mahia lost 2-1 to USM Alger in a CAF Confederation Cup group stage match.
Plenty of changes to squads and other aspects have occurred to both teams since and the stakes are much higher than they were in the continent’s second tier competition.
Of the seventeen Gor Mahia players that traveled to Algeria in August 2018, only six have made the trip this time.
Boniface Oluoch, Joash Onyango, Ernest Wendo, Lawrence Juma, Samuel Onyango and Charles Momanyi are the only remnants of the 2018 squad that ran aground at Confederation Cup group stage after finishing 3rd in the group.
Midfielder Lawrence Juma and center halves Joash Onynago and Charles Momanyi are the likely starters in tonight’s clash among the 2018 remnants as Oluoch, Wendo and Samuel Onyango increasingly find playing time hard to come by.
Gor Mahia stormed to this round after thumping Burundian outfit Aigle Noir 5-1 while their hosts overcame Niger’s SONIDEP on both legs to book a date with K’Ogalo.
Two five-goal performances by the record Kenyan champions have got fans purring for more but USM Alger at home pose a bigger threat than Aigle Noir and Tusker.
K’Ogalo tactician Steven Polack, just about one month old at the club, has molded a vibrant side playing possession football and unafraid to attack deep into opposition half.
Polack expects his charges to keep improving and it is against opposition of high calibre like USM Alger that he can measure progress.
With Tanzanian national David Mapigano getting preference between the sticks and the back four staying put, Gor Mahia hope to keep USM Alger at bay while striving to pounce and register a goal on the road.
The impressive trio of Tobias Otieno, skipper Kenneth Muguna and Juma in central midfield have been instrumental in balancing the team during attack and while defending and Polack expects even better in this crucial fixture.
Fleet-footed wingers Boniface Omondi and Dickson Ambundo will have to strike a balance between attacking and putting a shift in defensive duties against USM Alger while point man Nicholas Kipkirui, substituted early against Tusker as a precaution is fit to torment defenders.
Muguna last week expressed the team’s confidence and focus ahead of this tie. “We are taking each game at a time and after Tusker there cannot be prolonged celebrations. We just have to focus and do well in our next fixture. I’m confident of surmounting any opposition if we keep the focus we have right now,” he said
Gor Mahia have never played in the group stage of CAF Champions League and Polack has a great chance of reaching the milestone. The hosts, with well documented financial challenges, are equally targeting the next level of this competition for its financial incentives.
K’Ogalo have the advantage of playing the second leg at home in a fortnight but must hold their own in tonight’s leg.