Is Levis Opiyo to blame for AFC Leopards’ Mashemeji derby defeat to Gor Mahia?


Is Levis Opiyo to blame for AFC Leopards’ Mashemeji derby defeat to Gor Mahia?

Gor Mahia celebrate the only goal of the game
Gor Mahia celebrate the only goal of the gameProfimedia
In seconds, AFC Leopards goalkeeper Levis Opiyo (29) fumbled with a back pass despite having acres of space to clear the ball to safety, allowing midfielder Austine Odhiambo to put Gor Mahia ahead in the 95th Mashemeji derby on Sunday.

A normal build-up from the back initiated by Opiyo found AFC Leopards defender Kennedy Odhiambo, but on realising Gor Mahia’s Odhiambo and Benson Omalla had put pressure on him, he opted to return the ball to Opiyo, who instead of clearing, delayed thus allowing Odhiambo to sneak it in.

That is the goal that proved decisive in the end, enabling Gor Mahia to seal a double over their rivals in the Football Kenya Federation (FKF) Premier League this campaign. Though Gor Mahia played for most of the second half with 10 men after keeper Kevin Omondi had been sent off minutes before the half-time break following a foul on Victor Omune, AFC could not turn the game in their favour.

Rewinding to the first-round meeting between the two Kenyan giants at Kasarani Stadium on October 7th, 2023, Opiyo was at fault again. The former Posta Rangers custodian had left his area trying to dribble past a crowd of Gor Mahia players, but in the process lost the ball to Odhiambo, who took the advantage and stabbed home en route to Ingwe suffering a 2-0 defeat.

Is Opiyo to blame for the derby defeat?

The performance of Opiyo, an alumnus of Kenyatta Primary School, Thika, and Tetu High School who started to rise while at Tetu High and emerged as the best keeper in the Central region in 2010 and 2011, has elicited a lot of debate amongst fans on social media, with a section blaming him for the latest derby defeat.

“Lightning does not strike the same place twice,” wrote Ustadh Okello Kimathi. “What a coincidence! Levis (Opiyo) should now exit and sell his skills elsewhere and let us breathe. And whoever insists on him should tell us (fans) what business they are doing with him.”

“He (Opiyo) repeats the same mistake even after being forgiven,” stated Richie Odero, while Kevin Wamalwa questioned: “Why does he only make these silly mistakes when it’s against Gor Mahia but performs superbly well in other matches?”

Jakom Fimbu Chicote joined the debate by saying: “Opiyo will always be a sellout in the derby... I don't know how long it will take Ingwe to realise that,” while Alois Sakwa said: “Look for another goalkeeper before the start of the new season, we have seen enough from Opiyo and not ready to fantom same pain again.”

Another section of fans opined that Opiyo was not to blame because the mistake was committed by the defender (Kennedy Odhiambo), who gave the back pass despite the keeper already being under pressure from Gor Mahia strikers.

“Blame the defender who gave him the back pass yet Omalla and Austine (Odhiambo) were inside the penalty area,” said Fidel Okeyo, while Rodgers Ekesa questioned: “But also the defender how do you pass the ball to a keeper surrounded by two strikers? Instead of passing the ball out to the flanks?”

“In both cases, 80% of the blame goes to the defenders,” concluded Esau Ndumba.

AFC Leopards head coach Tomas Trucha (52) defended Opiyo, who started his Premier League career at Thika United in 2013, by saying though the mistake was crucial, it was not the reason Ingwe lost the game.

“Everybody is like a family member and this is how we work, so we support each other, obviously when the goalkeeper commits a mistake it is visible to everyone but when strikers make mistakes (by not scoring), we say they just missed a chance,” Trucha told Flashscore News.

“He (Opiyo) knows it was not a good decision but at the same time, it is not the reason we lost the game. We should have done more with the chances we created, especially against 10 players; we should have scored more goals, not zero,” added the Czech tactician.

Former AFC Leopards and Harambee Stars striker Boniface Ambani echoed Trucha’s sentiments saying the outcome of any game, win, draw, or lose, should be a collective responsibility of the entire squad and not one individual.

“In football, keepers make mistakes, defenders score own goals, midfielders miss giving out the right passes to strikers and strikers also miss open chances. What if Omune could have scored those two glorious chances for AFC Leopards or what if the Rwandan striker could have buried that chance in the second half for AFC?" Ambani asked Flashcore News.

“We could be speaking another language. Opiyo, yes as a keeper made a blunder. You don’t control a ball under pressure. As a keeper, you just clear it. On the other hand, Leopards had a whole 70 minutes plus to get an equaliser after the red card... which they didn't. Losing, drawing, and winning is a collective responsibility.

“The team lost... it’s a learning process for Opiyo and any other keeper outside there to understand anytime you’re under pressure don't try any showbiz... clear the ball. Be safe before you turn into a villain.”

Who is goalkeeper Levis Opiyo?

After emerging as the best goalkeeper in the Central region in 2010 and 2011, Opiyo moved to feature for Shimanzi and AC Thika in Safaricom’s U23 nationwide tournament Sakata Ball.

He impressed at the tournament and was immediately signed by Thika United, who were playing in the Kenyan Premier League in 2013. With playing time proving hard to come by, he was loaned out by Thika to second-tier side Mahakama FC on a six-month.

He then returned to Thika United, who sold him to Western Stima in 2017, and later landed at Mathare United, where he played for one season before moving to sign for Posta Rangers in 2018. Opiyo had the chance to play in Europe when he underwent trials with German side Fortuna Babelsberg but returned to rejoin Posta for the 2018-19 season.

At Posta, he lacked game time and decided to join Vihiga United for the remainder of the season, before he signed for National Super League (NSL) side Nairobi City Stars and later crossed over to Gor Mahia in 2020 and Wazito FC in 2021. After a short stint with Wazito, he landed at the Den with AFC Leopards.

So far this season, Opiyo is lying at position seven among the goalkeepers with the most clean sheets in the top flight. He has managed nine clean sheets, same as Tusker's Brian Bwire and Nairobi City Stars Edwin Mukolwe. Gor Mahia keeper Kevin Omondi is leading the chase for the golden glove having kept 17 clean sheets, followed by Patrick Matasi of Kenya Police with 13, while John Njau of Posta Rangers and Joseph Ochuka of Bandari FC are placed in third and fourth places with 11 each.

What the derby win means for Gor Mahia

The league standings in Kenya
The league standings in KenyaFlashscore

The victory enabled Gor Mahia to stay on course to lift a record 21st league title as they opened a nine-point lead at the top of the 18-team table. With seven matches left to end the season, Gor Mahia have amassed 57 points, with 16 wins, nine draws, and two defeats.

They are nine points ahead of second-placed Kenya Police, Tusker are third with 46, Bandaru fourth with 45 while Nairobi City Stars close the top five also with 45 points.

Gor Mahia coach Johnathan McKinstry admitted the derby win had increased their chances of retaining the title. “We have taken another step forward and can now start smelling the title,” McKinstry told reporters.

“Police are working hard to keep the pace after their win against Sofapaka so we must keep winning our matches to stay on course, we must keep picking the points, that is the most important part, we know what our ultimate target for the season and we will keep pushing to the end.”

On what strategy he will deploy for the remaining fixtures starting with the away game against Murang’a Seal at SportPesa Arena on May 4th, 2024, the Northern Irish tactician said: “We know it will not be easy, we are now playing against teams that are fighting against relegation, and also mid-table teams that are very difficult to play against at this stage of the campaign because they have nothing to lose.

“It becomes difficult playing such teams and for example, we play Murang'a Seal, a side with great football, and they like to play the game but we have to keep focus and win our matches and I am confident at 69 points it can win you the league.”

For AFC Leopards, the defeat left them sitting eighth with 38 points and they have only beaten Gor Mahia once in the last 15 matches in all competitions. The last time Ingwe celebrated victory against their rivals was in the second-round fixture of last season - a 2-1 result at Kasarani Stadium.



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