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Will Leopards and Gor get it right in CAF run this time?

Kenya’s two most successful football clubs Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards begin their quest for elusive continental success next weekend.

Kenyan Premier League champions Gor Mahia start their CAF Champions League campaign against US Bitam of Gabon, while GOtv winners AFC Leopards have a CAF Cup date with Ethiopian side Defence.

Apart from K’Ogalo, which beat Egypt’s Esperence to win the CAF Cup then named Nelson Mandela Cup in 1987, there is nothing to write home about local clubs.

In 2011 there was promise when Sofapaka reached the CAF Confederations Cup third, improving on previous dreary performances by our top teams.

Last year, Gor played in the CAF Cup but were knocked out in the first round by Egypt’s ENNPI on a 0-3 aggregate. The Green Army lost 0-3 away and settled for a barren draw in the return leg.

In 2012, the team took part in the same competition but was knocked out in the preliminary rounds after losing 0-4 to Ferroviário de Maputo.

Gor last played in the CAF Champions League in 1996 but went out in the first round. The team has  appeared in CAF competition eight times, with their best finish being a quarter-finals place in 1992 after losing to Sudan’s Al-Hilal.

The work is cut out for K’Ogalo and Ingwe. So far, the clubs are sending the right signals by strengthening their squads and conducting tight training schedules.

Gor coach Bobby Williamson is confident his team is strong enough to defend the league title and compete well in other club assignments.

“With the players I have, I am spoilt for choice. We strengthened the team by signing  some players from outside Kenya. Gor will give opponents a run for their money,” said Williamson.

The Scot brought in 11 new signings and released others as he builds a squad that can win trophies. The new players include Ugandan Geoffrey Kizito from Sai Gon, Veitnam, Godfrey Walusimbi (SC Villa), Jared Obwoge (Chemilil), Shaban Kenga (Bandari) and Rama Salim who returned to Gor from Qatar.

Others are Daniel Onyango, David Juma, Kevin Oluoch from Western Stima, James Kariuki from Karuturi Sports, Haron Shakava and Herbert Kopanya from Kakamega Homeboyz and Kanga High School. The 2010 Player of the Year George Blackberry Odhiambo also made a comeback.

“We are going into the tournament as underdogs but we shall surprise those who underestimate us,” he said.

Gor captain and goal keeper Jeremy Onyango shares the same sentiment, saying Gor would roar after previous disappointing performances.

“We dominated the league last season and are hoping to build the momentum in the CAF Cup. We look forward to winning the title,” said Onyango.

Gor’s bitter rivals AFC Leopards are bouncing back to continental action. They were eliminated in the preliminaries in the CAF Confederations Cup in 2000 by Banks SC of Ethiopia.

Their best run was semi-final appearances in both the CAF Champions league and Confederations Cup in 1968 and 1985.

Ingwe coach James Nandwa said he respected Defence and would take the match seriously.

He brought on board the 2013 Footballer of the Year Jacob Keli, Nigerian Austin Emeka, veteran defender James Situma formerly of Sofapaka, Joseph Shikokoti from Tusker and Musa Mudde who previously played for Tanzanian giants Sports Simba.

“This is a tough competition, which requires experienced players. By finishing second in their league, Defence are no pushovers. We cannot afford to underrate them. AFC is looking beyond this game to the next round,” he said.

Defender Martin Imbalambala said the team does not have to fear. He said they have trained hard and are looking forward to good results.