BY STEVE AYOO
Gor Mahia’s shambolic preparations ahead of the return leg of their Caf Confederations Cup quarterfinal played a huge part as they were embarrassed 5-1 (7-1 aggregate) by their Moroccan hosts RS Berkane who reached the semis in their maiden appearance in continental football.
Kogalo’s chances of progressing past the quarters already looked nearly impossible, having lost their home leg 2-0.
However, the Kenyan champions suffered their biggest defeat off the pitch thanks to inexplicable travel arrangements that saw the players get stranded at the airport in Qatar for hours on end as they reportedly waited for a connecting flight to the North African nation.
Photos of some of the club’s players, notably Francis Kahata and Philemon Otieno, sleeping on the airport floor in Doha went viral, even as it emerged that 8 reserve players arrived in Berkane ahead of the expected starting XI who had to take a 7-8 hour bus drive, arriving barely hours before the kick-off at the Municipal Stadium in Berkane.
The only positive for Gor boss was the return of skipper Harun Shakava and central defence partner Joash Onyango from suspension.
The duo could do nothing to stop the Moroccan side from going on the rampage.
Despite a promising start by the East African side, it was only a matter of time before the hosts took the lead in front of a disappointingly small home crowd.
Togolese striker Fod Doh Laba slid the ball between the legs of keeper Peter Odhiambo after ghosting behind Shakava who should have done better when dealing with a cross from the right after 21 minutes.
Gor however stunned their hosts (and perhaps themselves too) when just three minutes later, Lawrence Juma drilled home the equalizer after Kahata chested the ball down onto his fellow midfielder’s path while under pressure.
Another defensive mistake, this time from Joash Onyango, presented Bakr El Helali with a chance to pull Berkane ahead but the forward sent his effort wide with the goal at his mercy.
Captain Mohammed Aziz would not make the same mistake though as he outjumped Kenneth Muguna to make it 2-1 to the hosts just after the half hour mark.
El Helali would be literally handed another bite of the Gor Mahia goal when Shakava slipped and the forward atoned for his earlier miss, curling the ball to the bottom right hand side to give Berkane a 3-1 lead and all but kill the tie as a contest.
That would be Shakava’s final contribution in the match as he was subbed with five minutes to the half, Joachim Oluoch coming on to perhaps shake his boots ahead of a defining second half.
The home side scored two more goals after the resumption as Burkina Faso defender Issoufou Dayo towered over a ball watching Nicholas Kipkirui to head in Berkane’s fourth after 58 minutes and Youssef Essaiydy finished the rout with an easy finish four minutes to the end.
5-1 it ended on the night and 7-1 on aggregate as Berkane booked a semi-final scrap with four-time winners CS Sfaxien of Tunisia.
As for Gor Mahia, an inquest awaits as to what really transpired in Morocco before they resume their hunt for another premier league title which will guarantee them a chance to return to continental football next season.