NAKURU, Kenya- The last time Gor Mahia FC played Simba SC in a regional cup final was 1981, the year when American company IBM launched the world’s first Personal Computer powered by Microsoft Software, MS DOS that had just been invented as well.
It was also the year when the word ‘Internet’ was first mentioned and the Chinese first cloned fish.
On Sunday, Gor and Simba will take to the Afraha Stadium, Nakuru to vie for the 2018 SportPesa Super Cup crown in a battle where computers and Internet will play a leading role in keeping the world abreast with proceedings from the lakeside town located 160km from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi.
In 1981, Tanzanian league champions, Simba, came to the final of the Cecafa Club Cup (now Kagame Cup) as the overwhelming favourites against Gor who were the cup holders.
Earlier that year in Dar-es-Salaam, the Tanzania national team had hammered Kenya 5-0 in a 1982 World Cup qualifier but during the decider Gor beat Wekundu wa Msimbazi 1-0 to retain the cup with Nahashon ‘Lule’ Oluoch who is in Nakuru for the Super Cup final scoring the winner.
Oluoch was set up by a ‘sublime pass’ from Sammy ‘Kempes’ Owino to beat Simba keeper Omar Mahadhi who had otherwise a storming game for Simba in goal according to Athanas Obango Obala who watched the 1981 Cecafa final in Nairobi.
On Sunday, the complexion of expectations has changed with Super Cup holders, Gor, widely tipped to win a second successive title to earn the ticket to play English side, Everton FC at Goodison Park.
With USD30,000 (KSh3m) also at stake, Dylan Kerr’s side have simply picked off where they left last year when they blanked domestic arch rivals, AFC Leopards SC 3-0 to lift the inaugural Super Cup crown at Uhuru Stadium in Dar.
They opened their defence by ripping Zanzibar league winners, Jeshi la Kujenga Uchumi SCZ apart 3-0 last Sunday before overpowering Tanzanian outfit, Singida United FC 2-0 in the semis on Thursday to remain the only unbeaten side since the eight-team knockout competition was launched last year.
Simba’s path to the decider was more nerve-shredding, surviving a furious onslaught from SportPesa Premier League side, Kariobangi Sharks FC who let them off in a 0-0 stalemate in regulation before the Tanzanian heavyweights prevailed 3-2 in the shootout.
Manula goal keeping
In the semis, a polished defensive display epitomised by great goal-keeping by Aishi Manula saw them hold another SPL side, Kakamega Homeboyz FC 0-0 before their ruthlessness from the spot saw them join Gor in the final with a 5-4 win in post-match penalties.
Speaking on Saturday at a Nakuru hotel, the captains and coaches of both sides swept the previous under the carpet in agreeing the final will be a different kettle of fish altogether as they promised a game that will linger long in memory with so much at stake.
“We have trained well, the coach has given us the full dose of what we have to do tomorrow. The game will be tight, Simba is a good side, they claimed their league almost unbeaten, we are also unbeaten so it will be a good game,” Gor skipper, Harun Shakava, maintained.
His opposite number, Mohammed Hussein, also declared Simba were battle-ready to roar past Gor and earn the dream ticket to play Everton that would personally, ‘mean everything to me as a footballer and person’.
“Everyone is eager to play the final and return home with the trophy. Gor have five goals and are in the final, we have no goals but we are also in the final.
“We are ready to receive instructions from any coach. It is a challenge but that does not give us any problems since we have had the coach for a long time,” Hussein added.
He was alluding to the abrupt exit of head coach Frenchman Pierre Lechantre who was dismissed ahead of their semi against Homeboyz, with his assistant Masud Juma stepping in to steer the Vodacom Premier League titleholders through to the final and hopefully, beyond.
“We play as a group and we cannot fear. We wish to reach Everton and it would be good exposure to our players if we get the chance to get there.
“Tanzanian and Kenyan football is different but it helps us we have played against Azam in the Cecafa final and Simba fans cheered us when we beat Yanga,” Shakava who took over the Gor captain’s armband from Musa Mohammed who left the SPL winners at the end of last season, emphasised.
According to Hussein, Simba will not sit back and roll over in face of the might of Gor.
“We shall give them a good final. We have watched them from the first game and it will be a one of a kind final. We are motivated and since we left Tanzania, we are aware what brought us here,” the leader of a defence that is yet to concede a goal in the tournament fired back.
Penalties or no penalties?
With the best attack versus the best defence the hallmark of the 2018 Super Cup decider, attention focused on whether the game can be wrapped up inside the 90 or once again, the lottery of the penalties after 30 minutes of extra time will be called if the teams fail to find a winning goal (s).
Opposing coaches, Kerr and Juma emphasised their mission at Afraha will to lead their teams to glory regardless of what it takes and for the Gor boss, their desire is propelled by their drive to play against English opposition for the third time in a year having faced Everton in Dar last year and Hull City FC in Nairobi last month.
“Everybody who came to this tournament were desperate to be in the final. It is going to be one hell of a game against Simba and having played Everton and Hull City, we want to do it again. It’s a massive opportunity and we have to go in there prepared to face any challenge.
“Tomorrow (Sunday) is all about preparations and mentality. Simba have been in penalties to get to the finals and even in the World Cup it happens and every team must be prepared for anything. We must go there with the right preparations and mentality,” the Briton who coached Simba in the 2015/16 season told.
Juma caused journalists to chuckle when he outlined what beating Gor to get the Everton ticket would mean to him and his dogged team that has ground its way to the gold medal match through sheer grit.
“When you talk of England, none of us has ever been there, let alone play football. Okay, I passed through the country on transit and I was only there for five minutes on English soil and no one can say that is visiting England, can they?
“The hunger my team and I have to go to England is great and we will not be bothered by the sight of more Gor supporters than those of Simba. Whether our fans are here of not, when we look to the stands when playing, all we shall see are Gor supporting wearing the red of Simba.
“A final is a final, what has happened before is history, everyone should wait for what we shall do,” Juma quipped in flawless Swahili.
With the exit of Lechantre now in the back burner, Juma dismissed suggestions he did not have the required nous to pull off a big victory in such a grand final.
“We have planned for the final and give our all and I will not tell you what we have prepared for Gor, come and watch it at the stadium. It’s not my first final to play as a head coach or the first time I have led a team,” he asserted.
When asked about the reception he will get from Simba faithful and their officials after complaining in the media of their treatment when they beat Singida, Kerr opted to hail the passion of the supporters of two of the biggest clubs in the region.
“Both sets of supporters are amazing, they will bleed for Simba and Gor and we must be ready to do our best and give Kenya the big boost by representing the country in the UK. Simba have the experience of two penalty shootout and I told my players against Singida we must score inside the 90.
“The hardest part of the finals is the semis. Once you get to the final, it is the opportunity for the players and I hope we can finish the game in 90 minutes but football is a funny game and who knows?
“I was lucky enough to be invited to coach Simba and it went well until a certain period but it was an experience I had to adapt to it. I did not make a mistake there but everybody has their own opinion,” Kerr underscored.
The Gor head coach who joined the club a year ago and led them to their 16th Kenyan crown has been keen on tempering down his history with Wekundu wa Msimbazi in the run-up to the final.
“I told my players its not about Kerr, I never got the chance to tell Simba fans goodbye, I saw four players, two in Singida and two in Simba I worked with and to see the smile in their faces is what makes you know you are doing a good job as a coach
“Everybody wants the under dog to win but not everybody will get a chance to go to England, even for vacation and this is a massive opportunity to go and play an English Premier League games in one of the best cities, Liverpool,” Kerr offered.
Simba will be missing the services of dangerous Rwandese winger, Haruna Niyonzima who is sidelined by injury but Juma is confident his team that has fresh blood making their club debut at the Super Cup will cope in his absence.
“We have not conceded a goal in as much as we have not scored. We have new players who are not used to the Simba style of play and are learning. We are working to ensure they adapt to our methods as quickly as possible and progress here has been good for them.
“We have 17 players left in the squad and any coach changes their mind as soon as they are informed a player is out and we have the resources we need to execute what we have planned for Gor and with the grace of God, take the cup home,” he declared.
With that, the stage was set, battle lines drawn and all the talk done. What remains for Gor and 19-time Tanzania champions Simba is to give their expectant fans and watching football public a Super Cup final of the ages.
DISCLAIMER: In the earlier version of this post, we indicated that James ‘Jacaranda’ Ouma scored the winner for Gor Mahia FC against Simba SC. We have since established Ouma scored the winner for Kenya in the final of the Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup, not for Gor in the Cecafa Club Championships decider of the same year. The mix up is highly regretted.