Mathare United XI: Peter Odhiambo- Noah Abich, David Mwangi, George Owino, Robinson Kamura- Edward Seda, Whyvonne Isuza, Chrispin Oduor- Erick Johanna, Daniel Mwaura, Derrick Onyango.
Gor Mahia XI: Boniface Oluoch- Karim Nizigiyimana, Eric Ouma, Musa Mohammed, Haron Shakava- Collins Okoth, Innocent Wafula, Khalid Aucho- Jacques Tuyisenge, George Odhiambo, Godfrey Walusimbi.
In this eagerly awaited match, both teams fielded 4-3-3 line-ups that smoothly changed to 4-4-2/4-5-1 without the ball.
Setting a high bar for kpl
For a moment I forgot I was watching a Kenya Premier League match. Such is the manner in which the game began. The tempo was high enough and there was a great atmosphere at the stadium.
Mathare United and Gor Mahia, both, pressed with a lot of intensity to prevent circulation of the ball by the opponent. This also caused the high stat count of fouls committed. I guess it really was Dutch’s totale voetbal vs Samba’s joga bonito.
We witnessed an instance of Francis Kimanzi’s ideology, when his team swarmed forward. The striker pressed Boniface Oluoch and, fascinatingly, three of his teammates closed down the K’ogalo defenders. That is not something you see in KPL. Usually, it’s a lonely striking tiring himself out to chase balls he could never win.
Versatile Gor Mahia
The press put the game in a deadlock situation. Hardly any chances were being created leave alone shots on goal.
Gor Mahia responded to this by reverting to their direct approach. Only on this occasion they showed how much they have evolved as a team. Too bad there are always administrative squabbles when we need them to show it in the CAF Champions League.
They were simply not hoofing the ball to a tall striker to hold up play. Gor Mahia were taking advantage of Mathare’s high positioning to play vertical passes and high passes to their forwards.
Without their build ups, Mathare United did not show similar resourcefulness. Instead, they depended on counter pressing (winning the ball back after losing it) to try and create chances.
Kimanzi sits back
Francis Kimanzi is among the few idealist coaches in Kenya. Thus, I must admit I was a little bemused to see his team sit back in the second half.
Mathare ditched the high press to avoid being caught behind the defensive line. This caused the tempo to lull and stifle the opportunities of chance creation. The Slum Boys were compact in their flat back four. They positioned themselves equidistant from one another and conducted their zonal marking with admirable discipline. In the 60th minute there was no shot on target.
Onus on Gor Mahia
The onus was thus on the Kenyan champions to resuscitate the contest. Gor Mahia’s response was to allow their fullbacks to maraud. It’s amazing how Gor Mahia can unearth another fullback, Eric Ouma, yet Harambee Stars often positions center backs wide.
I once compared Walusimbi to Harrison Afful in my appeals to have him graduated to a midfielder. He didn’t let me down in scoring a goal similar to Afful’s CAF Champions League 2011 winning goal.
At this moment Mathare United was out of it physically. They were not helped by the structure altering substitutions. The players proved unable to reorganize themselves and came under sustained pressure that culminated in a Tuyisenge tap in.
In 2013, I waited for either Sofapaka or Tusker to match Gor Mahia and they failed. This year, the tactically interesting team of Mathare United failed as well. They simply didn’t have the personnel to go toe to toe with K’ogalo for the full 90.