When phrases become clichés they tend to lose the ‘weight’ of their message; it’s no different with the phrase, ‘Defenses win tournaments’. For now it’s unknown whether it will hold true for this CECAFA tourney but we
witnessed this play out in the Gor Mahia versus Atletico match. It’s
frustrating that the KPL champions have so far failed to impose themselves in the competition but at the same time I felt vindicated as I’m a proponent of cautious (and balanced) football styles. Atletico, minnows compared to K’ogallo’s pedigree, earned a solitary goal victory in the race for the last eight.
Bobby Williamson was clear in his
disappointment with the defense set-up from the KCCA game by making four changes- Bruno and Opiyo slotting in the fullback positions while Eric Ochieng and
Blackberry made way for Mbugua
and Kariuki. He also changed the formation to 4-4-2; opting for a two line zonal marking to cover for the lack of a pressing structure. While the message was lucid in bolstering the defending, Gor Mahia were still going to attack (after watching Gor Mahia attack
against Esperance I’m certain
they’ll never walk onto the pitch to defend under the Scottsman, I guess that’s a good thing). Their opponents alternated between 4-2-3-1 and 3-5-2in a ‘caution-first’ style of play.
Most of the game was largely a stalemate in terms of approaches. Atletico attacked mostly with one man upfront and never troubled Gor’s highline as the Owino-Shakava partnership only had to
keep an eye on the one man. The
Burundians sat deep and packed the midfield (even though Gor doesn’t excel in central attacks); waiting for lucky breaks or
opportunities for speculative long-range shots to get a goal. The
Kenyan champions took initiative but they sorely missed Walusimbi and Musa Mohammed for width,
thanks to lackadaisical displays by Mbugua and Kariuki on the wings. It was evident the starting fullbacks had been warned against advancing often so it was surprising to see the team-sheet wingers cut diagonally inside instead of working on the touchline.
Atletico were indeed right to play defensive as two occasions in the first half showed; they moved men forward and both times Gor earned their best opportunities to take the lead. Their defensiveness was indeed effective, noting by how Timothy and Sserenkuma roamed up-field and wide to get a
sniff of the ball. One thing that stood out for me was how often ‘Gattuso’ received the first pass from defense, effectively making him the playmaker. Of course Kizito was marked but it would have made more sense to make use of David Owino’s capability and have him act as libero (moving out of defense with the ball); Afterall, his second-half
move to fullback echoed this.
In the second-half Bobby brought in Blackberry and reverted to 4-3-3 in an attempt to overload the Atletico wingbacks but the lack of attacking nous from his own fullbacks rendered this move
ineffective. Instead, what happened is that Gor Mahia lost their defensive balance in midfield and the Burundians gained the confidence in taking on
the highline with numbers (movements) and Jerim had to repeatedly keep his team level. Contrary to the first game, the blip didn’t come from the blind-sides but right in Central defense. Gattuso’s blunder exposed the, until then solid, central defense and Hakimana got a most glorious
finish. While it’s fair to acknowledge the mistake wasn’t from the defenders it’s only natural to expect anticipation in case mistakes happen that close to the goal.
After that Gor Mahia pushed men forward in desperation rather than under any pretext of a well though-out plan. Apart from the central creativity, the Kenyan champions missed the wing-play of Walusimbi. Perhaps it’s time
to graduate him to a winger (I see Harrison Afful in that man).