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Kenyan champion Gor Mahia in limelight for trip to Everton

NAIROBI, (Xinhua) -- Excitement, anticipation, anxiety and a bit of skepticism has been building as Kenyan league champions, Gor Mahia FC prepare to leave on Friday to Britain to play Everton FC.

On Nov. 6, Gor Mahia will become the first club side from East Africa to play an English Premier League club at the iconic Goodison Park.

Gor Mahia, who wrapped a record-extending 17th domestic crown in the just-concluded season won the chance to play the Toffees when they defeated Tanzanian giants, Simba SC 2-0 in the final of an eight-team regional invitational tournament dubbed the SportPesa Cup on June 10.

Last year, the two clubs met at the National Stadium in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania where the EPL side prevailed 2-1 in a game remembered as the first outing for former England captain Wayne Rooney since his return to Everton after 12 trophy-laden years at Manchester United.

Rooney, who has since left for DC United in the Major League Soccer of America, opened the scoring with a scorcher from range before Gor Mahia’s record signing Jacques Tuyisenge, levelled for 1-1 at half time. A late Kieran McDowell strike, also from range sealed victory for Everton.

“Their performance against such a big side inspired us to come back home and win the league. I told my players they had the qualities to play against the best and from there it was easy for them to find the motivation,” remarked Dylan Kerr who took charge of Gor for the first time in that match remarked.

Former Brazilian international, Jose Marcelo ‘Ze Maria’ Ferreira took over Gor Mahia at the start of July 2017 and subsequently led the side to reclaim the domestic title they had lost to local rivals, Tusker FC in 2016.

In the past season, Gor Mahia defended their crown with six games to spare, finishing third in the regional Cecafa Club Championships in Tanzania and above all, qualifying them for the first time in the group stages of the second tier continental competition, the CAF Confederations Cup.

Amid a chocking fixture list that saw the team tail off towards the end of the campaign, Gor Mahia also retained their Super Cup crown before a crippling player’s strike over delayed salaries and allowance saw their season end in a whimper, losing six of their last eight games.

“The playing unit, both young and experienced, played a significant role in delivering the 17th trophy home despite the tight season that also saw us engage in CECAFA, Super Cup and CAF competitions,” Ferreira said.

Ahead of the showdown, opinion has varied between those who see the fixture as a positive step towards exposing East African football to the world as others label the match as a public relations gimmick.

Gor Mahia and Everton share a shirt and title sponsor in SportPesa, the African gaming giants with roots in Kenya who have since expanded to open their business in the UK, Italy, South Africa and Tanzania.

The company has thrown its weight behind a huge promotional campaign that has managed to capture the attention of the Kenyan audiences on local television, radio, newsprint, on-line and social media.

Besides the Gor players and staff, a group of local journalists, a number of Gor fans led by the most famous of all, Jared Otieno, also known as ‘Jaro Soja’ the self-styled Commander-in-Chief of the Green Army supporters and other guests will make the Everton trip.

Last year, the two sides played to a jam-packed National Stadium in Dar and in May this year, Gor Mahia took on visiting English second division side Hull City FC in Nairobi where the 60,000-seater Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani filled to its brim.

Organizers are hoping the story of a Kenyan side playing a team from the most-followed league in the world will be a big international draw to serve the dual purpose of exposing talent from East Africa as well as leveraging their product in this age where football is one of the biggest commercial drivers.

“Everton is one of the most established clubs in the UK being the only one to play over 100 seasons in the Premier League. The friendly will be good exposure for the Gor who have given their best to put Kenya on the global and regional map in matters football,” company CEO, Captain Ronald Karauri said when the game was confirmed in August.

Regardless of the purpose of the fixture, Gor players are relishing the prospect of what the opportunity offers to their careers.

“I’m very grateful to our partners and coach for making this trip possible. Most of us have never been to the UK and this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for us to showcase our talent,” the 20-year-old Edward Lokuwam said ahead of the trip.

Raphael Asudi, who grew up in Donholm, a settlement east of the Kenyan capital Nairobi, is another youngster keen on making an impression at Goodison Park as his promising career continues to take shape.

“It will be great to meet the entire Everton team and especially (Theo) Walcott. I have always admired him and it will be amazing to show them that we can handle the challenge they pose,” Asudi, who is a devout Arsenal fan where Walcott spent a decade before signing for the Toffees, added. 

           

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