Zamalek coach Christian Gross seems to be banking on new signing Khalid Boutaib to exact damage on hosts Gor Mahia in Saturday’s opening group stage match of the Caf Confederation Cup in Nairobi.
The Kenyan champions will play host to the dreaded North African team in the opening Group ‘D’ clash at the Moi International Sports Centre and Boutaib — a Sh170 million signing from Turkish side Yen Malyaspor last month — looks to be the Swiss coach’s trump card in the attack.
In between the five-time African champions light training session at the Utalii grounds on Friday evening, Gross was continuously spotted engaging in an “I am counting on you” kind of discussion with the Moroccan international away from the rest of the group.
At some point, the coach even rested his right hand over the player’s shoulder, perhaps in a bid to stress a point.
Later, the coach seemed to order his star player to practice free kicks at one end of the pitch; an assignment he accomplished with frightening finesse, and worth noting for Gor Mahia’s rearguard consisting captain Harun Shakava, Philemon Otieno and Shafiq Batambuze.
Having played 18-matches, two fewer than second-placed Pyramids, Zamalek lead the Egypt Premier League standings with 45 points, six more than the second best side.
Still, Gross has challenged his charges not to be carried away by that sublime domestic form, while also underlining the aim to secure an away victory against the Kenyan champions.
“It’s a total different competition now and we have to be a 100 percent focused from the start to end. It is always good to start the group stage with a victory,” said the 64-year-old coach.
“Gor Mahia game is going to be difficult but we have to give our all, whether the game is at home or away.”
Meanwhile, the seventeen-time Egyptian champions who landed in Nairobi early Friday morning seem eager to acclimatize to the warm Nairobi weather, judging from their session.
Working out before an audience that consisted a handful of excited local fans and footballers attached to high-flying SportPesa Premier League club Kariobangi Sharks, the players stretched around the venue for a couple of minutes.
This activity later graduated to a light jog around the well spruced up pitch for the players who were donning light blue and white jerseys. Thereafter, the players briefly worked with the ball in a ‘touch and go’ session before forwards Abdalla El Said, Khalid Boutaib, and Mohammed Al Haddad, who have scored eight goals in the last three league matches took to practicing set pieces.
After this session, Gross politely declined to entertain questions from Nation journalists, instead referring us to wait until after the final training at the Moi International Sports Centre Kasarani on Saturday evening.
The “White Knights” defeated Chad’s Coton Sport and Morocco’s Ittihad Tangier in the earlier stages of this competition whilst Gor Mahia also swept past Malawi’s Nyasa Bullets in the Caf Champions League and Cameroon’s New Star in the Confederation Cup playoffs.
And in a related development, ardent Gor Mahia fan come city politician Eliud Owalo has — via his social media page — urged the club supporters to fill up the 60,000 seater venue, and offered 400 tickets for those wishing to attend the 4pm kick-off.