By Steve Ayoo (@Steifmaster88)
AFC Leopards boss Rodolfo Zapata has raised the stakes in Saturday’s Mashemeji derby against Gor Mahia terming it a ‘win or die’ battle.
The 52-year-old Argentine, whose looks sells him off as a Hollywood movie star rather than a touchline demigod, will lead his troops against the enemy in what will be his second taste of the most hotly contested match in the land, on the pitch, but mostly in the stands.
His debut derby ended in a 2-1 defeat but he has almost just fallen short of swearing that things will be (and they need to be) different this time round.
Bill Shankly, the man who built the unshakable foundation upon which Liverpool FC currently stands, said: “Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.”
Zapata, just 15 years when Shankly died, seems to have echoed those sentiments ahead of the derby.
He Tweeted: “In #MashemejiDerby … win or dies (sic). Better to die standing than to live on your knees. We cannot be sure of having something to live for unless we are willing to die for it.”
He went on to issue a befitting rallying call: “#INGWE, we can do it!”
Zapata will be hoping to end a 6-match winless run against Gor Mahia who will have the added bonus of wrapping up a record-extending 17th Kenyan Premier League title with a result against the team they love to hate.
In fact, Lamine Diallo’s solitary strike in a 1-0 win in March 2016 counts as Leopards’ only success against Kogalo in the past 10 meetings dating back to July 2014.
Since then, it has been 6 wins for Gor, three draws and the Diallo defeat.
Zapata’s work will be cut out especially with the absence of Ezekiel Odera and Marvin Omondi who have 18 league goals between them. The forward is suspended while Omondi is struggling with an injury.
There remains a mystery though on the squad that Gor head coach Dylan Kerr will pick. He went for ‘Team C’ against Sofapaka and resoundingly won 3-0. It’s still unclear whether the ‘Team B’ was reserved for this derby and ‘Team A’ for the crucial August 29 Caf Champions League clash against USM Alger.
Whichever team tuns up to face the Leopards, it will be a matter of ‘win or death,’ to quote senor Zapata. Music to the ears of many, a Leopard fan.
See you at the Kasarani Stadium, 4pm.