Gor host Tunisia's Esperance amid fanatical interest
26 February 2014, 20:31
Nairobi - Already, they have an online campaign dubbed #JASASTADIUM (fill up the stadium) running on social media platforms Face Book and Twitter that has gone viral in Kenya.
The anticipation amongst the Green Army, as fans of Kenyan league giants, Gor Mahia are known, is reaching fever pitch as the countdown to their titanic CAF Champions League first round opening leg clash against Tunisian titans, Esperance de Tunis in Nairobi on Saturday continues ticking.
Despite the match being among dozens that will be played across Africa with three other rounds to go before either of the clubs can qualify for the lucrative group phase of the competition, Saturday's game has adopted a life of its own owing to the history between the clubs.
In 1987, the teams met for their first and only two-legged affair that was the final of the defunct Cup Winners Cup (Mandela Cup) and after a 2-2 draw in Tunis, Gor held fancied Esperance to a 1-1 draw in Nairobi to become the only side from East and Central Africa to win a continental trophy.
The class of 1987 assumed cult status following the triumph with their bravely celebrated to date explaining why the Esperance fixture is commanding fanatical interest.
"My friend, those years people were playing for passion, and when Gor was playing quarter final at Nyayo Stadium against the Togolese Entente, the memorable goal I still remember was the first one which (Sammy) Onyango 'Jogoo' scored with a scissor kick on the score board side.
"We were young but we never missed those matches," a fan, Stephen Otieno, posted on the club's official Facebook wall.
He added: "I attended that final game, no words to describe it.But one thing I do remember vividly is seeing (the late) former (Foreign Affairs) Minister, Robert Ouko going down to his knees and praising The Almighty God!"
Otieno's take is among tens of thousands that have populated social media from the moment Gor booked their ticket to face Esperance a fortnight ago after edging Gabon's US Bitam 4-2 on penalties after a 1-1 draw over two legs in the preliminary round of the tournament.
The manner Gor qualified is also fuelling assertions the Esperance fixture was ordained by destiny since the Gabonese side missed two penalties in regulation time and two more in the shootout, all saved by skipper Jerim Onyango in the Kenyan league champions goal.
After returning from Gabon, Gor have began their title defence with two victories on the bounce, both by 1-0 against Nairobi City Stars and Mathare United, proving they are on fine fettle as they prepare for the Esperance test.
Assistant coach, John 'Bobby' Ogolla, who was part of the 1987 squad but missed the final due to knee injury, said Wednesday evoking the spirit of their most famous triumph made it easy to motivate the players to face the two-time Champions League winners.
"I know they are well organised but I think we should do what we did 27 years back and excel. I know we can beat them, I would have wished to start away but since we are beginning at home, want us to maximize all the home ground advantages so that on second leg we know where we stand," the former midfield dynamo said.
Peter Dawo, the retired striker who made it into the folklore of the club when his header proved to be the winning goal in 1987 in the home leg is however, urging the current crop not to take beating Esperance as a foregone conclusion.
"A lot has changed from our time and that has made it even difficult for Gor to beat Esperance since most of the teams nowadays have good training facilities and money to play for. Comparing the two, the North African team has an upper-hand because they are far more developed than us," Dawo said.
"Gor have to plan their strategies well since the Arabs are very fast and if they score one goal, it will be difficult to equalise," Dawo, who has been invited for the match by the club in honour of his achievement, said from the port city of Kisumu where he is now based.
Whatever the outcome, Kenyan soccer is set for a treat on Saturday as the past and present collide when Esperance, who are set to arrive in Nairobi on Thursday, take to the field to play Gor Mahia.
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