By: CELLESTINE OLILO
Gor Mahia, first round casualties at last year’s Cecafa Club Championships, are now just one step away from storming the tournament final.
The Kenyan champions must get past Sudanese side Al Khartoum in the first semi-final match on Friday at the National Stadium to appear at the last stage for the first time since 1985 when they went on to win the title.
Home side Azam, who have had strong run in the tourney, face Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA) in the second semi.
The prospects of appearing in the final is something even the modest coach Frank Nuttall cannot resist.
After their final group stage match against Djibouti Telecom, the Scottish tactician insisted that their ambition to make it past the group stages had already been fulfilled, and that they had nothing to lose in the competitions from then on.
But the same Nuttall repudiated on his statement after their laboured 2-1 win over South Sudan’s Malakia at the quarter-finals, saying that he expected an improved performance in the semi-finals. Clearly he was plotting on advancing to the final stage of the tournament and felt he had a squad well capable of delivering.
(READ: Gor floor Malakia to set date with Khartoum)
“We have been sluggish in our last two matches and that now needs to stop. I sympathize with the players because they are playing several intense matches within a short period of time but at this point, everybody must show character and give their best performance regardless,” he said during the team’s training session on Thursday.
In their records so far, the 14-time Kenyan champions have won all but one of their four matches, a 1-1 draw against Al Khartoum.
(READ: Gor Mahia, Al Khartoum cancel out to reach quarters)
They were well in their element to defeat home side Yanga and silence their noisy supporters at the National Stadium. Gor also saw off the challenge of a very useful KMKM side from Tanzania before stepping all over tournament minnows Djibouti Telecom. Gor are well versed with playing high profile games, and so they shall not be short of confidence going into the semis.
They carry one of the most fearsome attack line in the competition in the name of Michael Olunga, who already has four goals to his credit, Meddie Kagere and Ali Abondo.
Gor have managed to score in all their outings and they will put trust in their forward line to deliver them to the final.
But they will have to mount strong rear-guard to avoid falling to formidable Al Khartoum.
The Sudanese side have been ruthless in their matches so far, and they laid bare their title aspirations on Tuesday when they beat APR 4-0 at the National Stadium.
GUNNING FOR A WIN
The experienced Ghanaian coach Kwesi Appiah said that while he reserves a lot of respect for the Kenyan team he would be gunning for nothing short of a win during the match.
“They (Gor) have a very good squad with some really quality players, but from my experience during the World Cup I know that there is no big or small team. All teams in such tournaments are here by merit and they are capable of springing an upset,” he said.
The match has been scheduled to kick off at 1:30pm, and the forecasted punishing heat and humidity could slow down the game that is do-or-die affair for both parties.
Azam will fancy their chances of getting past Uganda’s KCCA whom they beat 1-0 in their opening match of the tournament.
Azam have a four-match winning record so far in the competition, and they have on their side the experienced coach Stewart Hall and a ferocious attack line of John Bocco and Kipre Tchetche.
Azam remain the only team yet to concede a goal in the competition.