CR Belouizdad continued from where they left-off in Algiers twelve days ago to beat Gor Mahia 2-1 in the return leg of the CAF Champions League at Nyayo National Stadium and consequently relegate K'Ogalo to the Confederations Cup play-offs on an 8-1 aggregate.
The record Kenyan champions were facing an uphill task and needed to score more than seven unanswered goals to progress to the group stages of the prestigious continental showpiece after suffering a humiliating 6-0 defeat to the seven-time Algerian champions on December 26.
Burundian striker Jules Ulimwengu put Gor Mahia ahead in the 18th minute only for Amir Sayoud, who was the tormentor-in-chief scoring a hattrick on Boxing Day, to cancel it out with a brilliant free-kick in the 78th minute before setting up Abdelkader Belharane for the winner six minutes later.
Unlike the Algiers trip where Gor’s defensive frailties and profligate in the attack were heavily exposed as they were reduced to a bunch of mooching, stumbling green-shirted spectators, at Nyayo K’Ogalo looked a bit more organized and comfortable with the ball before they crumbled again in the second half.
While Gor were seeking redemption, the Algerians were out to assert the North African teams’ dominance against the Kenyans.
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The return of captain Kenneth Muguna from injury gave Gor Mahia some inspiration as he released through Ulimwengu for the opener in a match that was marred by some broadcast rights (live stream) controversy between the hosts and Football Kenya Federation (FKF).
The unpleasing broadcasting incidents aside, Gor appears to have shot themselves in the foot ahead of the first round encounter. The players had mentally and physiologically lost the two-legged fixture even before stepping onto the pitch.
Just like the first leg, the build-up to this game had been overshadowed by the news of poor preparation from Gor Mahia camp, unstable technical bench and players’ go-slows due to unpaid salaries.
Though Kenyan teams have seen worse losses against North African oppositions in the recent past, Gor’s 8-1 humiliation at the hands of Belouizdad on aggregate looked like a repeat of their embarrassing 6-0 defeat to Cameroon’s Cannon Yaounde in the reverse tie of the 1979 African Cup Winners' Cup final. The Cameroonian side won the trophy 8-0 on aggregate following their 2-0 victory in the first leg fixture in Nairobi
Last year, Gor Mahia also lost 6-1 on aggregate to another Algerian side USM Alger at the same stage of this competition.
But from AFC Leopards’ 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Egyptian giants Al Ahly in 1987 to Gor’s 5-0 defeat to Tunisia’s Esperance in 2014 and Zamalek (2011) and Smouha (2017) both hammering Ulinzi Stars 4-0, North African teams have been a hard nut to crack for Kenyan clubs.
Gor Mahia have been knocked out of this year’s Champions League not because they were ‘weak’ but because of their poor preparation, lack of quality, the magnitude of the disaster and accumulation of errors both individually and collectively.