Everton boss Koeman says match was eye-opener for English Premier League teams.
It was a dream come true for Gor Mahia players when they stood toe-to-toe with nine-time English Premier League champions Everton on Thursday in Tanzania.
The match at the 60,000-seater stadium in Dar-es-Salaam will be etched on the memories of Gor Mahia players, officials and fans who traveled to support their team and those who watched on television.
Despite winning 2-1, the Toffees were pushed to the limit, a feat which proves that African football has come of age.
The stadium was packed to the rafters and Gor Mahia did not disappoint their fans who had traveled from Kenya to support the 15-time Kenyan Premier League (KPL) champions as they took on the English Premier League side.
The Kenyan boys gave their best, which saw them hold their opponents to a 1-1 draw at halftime after Wayne Rooney scored a stunner in the 34th minute and Rwandan import Jacques Tuyisenge headed home the equaliser two minutes later.
“It was a great moment to play against Rooney. I stood firm to deny him space to score, which I did with a lot of confidence.
“I was not intimidated by his presence as I executed by defensive roles professionally,” captain Musa Mohammed said.
Musa, a Kenyan international however did not have an answer to Rooney’s goal and any defenders would have found it hard to stop the England captain going by the nature of his strike.
Another defender Haron Shikava said he was happy to have played against Everton’s first eleven.
“As a team, we played well and we proved our critics wrong as they thought we would not have a chance against the English side,” he said
Gor Mahia goal scorer Tuyisenge was overwhelmed after scoring against the Toffees.
“It is always a dream of any player to score in a big match,” Tuyisenge said.
“It was an exciting match as we played against some of the top players in the world and we proved to them that African football was taking a different dimension,” he said.
Gor Mahia coach Dylan Kerr believes the team has a bright future going by the way they played on Thursday, and under his tutelage.
“We were very strong in the first half before we lost our shape in the second half. We did not press harder in the second half,” he said.
“We played a team with some of the best players in the world and if given space, they can play you off the park,” Kerr said.
“This was a big match for Kenya and Gor Mahia and my boys gave a good account of themselves,” added the coach who promised to transform the team gradually as he settles in.
Jolawi Obondo, the Gor Mahia Team Manager said it was a generally balanced match and he was happy with the way his players performed.
“We contained our opponents in the first half before they made use of the only chance they got and scored,” Obondo said.
“We lost our concentration in the second half after we made seven substitutions, which did not fit well in the playing pattern.
“But it was the best time to give all the players a chance to take part in a big match,” he added.
Obondo says the match was important to his players as they prepare to wrestle back the KPL title they lost to Tusker last season.
Everton manager Ronald Koeman believes the match would be an eye opener for other English teams who should consider playing against African teams before the season starts.
“Gor Mahia have good players with individual skills. It was a match worth playing,” Koeman said.
“They are a good team and made it hard for us to find our extra man in midfield. They can be proud of their performance and I want to give them a lot of compliments for making it so tough for us.”
Koeman fielded most of his established stars, but he also used the match to blend in his new signings.
However, Rooney was the main focus as he made his first appearance for Everton — where he made his name as a youngster — after moving from Manchester United.
Rooney showed his love to his boyhood team after he accepted to take a pay cut inorder to play for Everton for the next two years. The match also gave the traveling Everton fans a first hand opportunity to see their new signings away from home.
Team Vice captain Leighton Baines said the trip to Tanzania was exciting. “It was a good start for our season with a win, which has given us the needed confidence ahead of other forthcoming build up matches.”
Koeman also highlighted the impact of Wayne Rooney and declared himself pleased with his side’s efforts.
On his first appearance since returning to the club, Rooney opened the scoring with an incredible 30-yard effort on 34 minutes in front of a raucous crowd at the National Stadium.
The match was sponsored by SportPesa, a Kenyan gaming firm which has made its presence felt in East Africa and Europe.
Some of the proceeds from the match went towards supporting Tanzania Football Federation football development fund.
The fund will provide programmes for the development of under-15 and under-17 teams.
Also to benefit from the match were the management of the National Stadium after it was given a face-lift for the historic match.
The field got a new surface as rye grass had to be imported and laid before Thursday’s match.
Rye grass — known for its quick growing nature, resistance to pests and eco-friendliness — was imported from Northern Ireland. It was combined with the pitch’s existing Bermuda grass to give the ground a new look.
SportPesa contracted Clive Richardson Limited, an English Sportsground Construction and Civil Engineering Company to work on the playing surface.
Irish pitch expert Shane McGeown camped at the National stadium for five weeks to prepare the ground for the match.
Gor Mahia came back from Tanzania yesterday and their focus now is KPL action.