Isaac Swila in Berkane, Morocco
Gor Mahia FC’s fairy-tale African journey came to a humiliating end on Sunday night at the hands of their tormentors RS Berkane who showed little leniency for their off-pitch woes with a thumping send-off.
The Moroccans claimed a 5-1 victory at the Stade Municipal de Berkane to complete a resounding 7-2 aggregate success over the Kenyans whose trip for the return leg had been marred by endless tribulations.
The huge defeat all but confirmed the Kenyan giants exit from the tourney thanks to mismanagement goofs and tactical naivety in the first leg in Nairobi eight days ago.
In a frantic first half where chances came thick and fast for the home team, Gor were second best with her rearguard conceding corner after another as the hosts piled pressure to complete the job they had started in Nairobi.
Laba Kodjo, Mohamed Aziz and Bakre Helali all found in the mark for the hosts in that order before Issoufou Dayd added the fourth after the break.
Gor flattered to deceive through a Lawrence Juma strike in the 24th minute but that is as far as it got.
Laba Kodjo, dangerous throughout the opening intervals duly gave Berkane the lead in the 21st minute easily beating Fredrick Odhiambo in Gor’s goal after a cross from the right flank.
And as the home team upped the antennae so did the volume rise at the south end of this small but immaculate stadium.
Gor who after 20minutes had registered just one off-target-shot flattered to deceive when Lawrence Juma rifled home from some 18 yards out with a left foot.
Juma’s goal seemed to invite more fury if not anger from the charged hosts, with Berkane captain Mohamed Aziz, popular in this stadium, heading in neatly to spark some active celebration from the partisan crowd.
It was however winger and creative force Bakre El Helali who showed sheer class robbing Gor`s skipper Haron Shakava of the ball in the danger area, leaving him on the floor as he meandered his way to the right to thump home with a beautiful curling effort.
At 3-1 ahead in the night and 5-1 on aggregate, the tie was practically over though fear loomed that the second half would turn the scores to a cricket result, and indeed more came after the breather!
Gor, arriving just two hours after an energy sapping seven-hour road journey from the Casablanca International Airport had otherwise shocked the pressure in the first 20 minutes raising false hopes to a fuming fan base back home who are yet to come to terms with their team’s haphazard travel arrangements.
But even in the face of it all, head coach Hassan Oktay maintained a cool head in the dressing room hours to the clash, concentrating on getting his fatigued players in shape ahead of the clash.
Oktay elected to field Fredrick Odhiambo in goal while Geoffrey Ochieng, Samuel Onyango, Nicholas Kipkirui, Francis Kahata, Joash Onyango, Shakava, Kenneth Muguna, Erisa Ssekisambu, Juma and Philemon Otieno all nailed starting berths.
With the intense start, Berkane could have gone ahead as early as the seventh minute had it not been for the feet of Odhiambo in Gor`s goal while the no-nonsense defender Joash Onyango had to make a sliding tackle to keep at bay the troublesome Hamdi Laachir a minute later.
The second half saw the Moroccans slow down the level of the game as the prey had been killed; a 4-1 lead and 6-1 on aggregate as Gor barely threatened.
Though unblemish in the whole travel saga, the administration goofs insulates the playing unit from attack as at now as Berkane progress to the last four, but according to club boss Ambrose Rachier, “he will revisit the matter” once the dust settles.
For now they bow out with tails tucked between their legs hoping to reach the semis or the finals next term, but only if they get their holistic approach right from the start through to the end.