NAIROBI, Kenya- The cathedral of Kenyan sports- Moi International Sports Centre (MISC), Kasarani- will add the groundbreaking football match between Gor Mahia FC and visiting Hull City FC to its decorated roll of honour on Sunday.
That the eagerly anticipated encounter will be played at the hallowed pitch of the sporting amphitheatre that can hold 60,000 spectators is nothing short of a modern man-made miracle.
Like other facilities managed by Sports Kenya, Kasarani was earlier this year, earmarked for renovations funded by the taxpayer that were supposed to be complete by the start of April.
At the height of the hullabaloo, reports gained currency that Kenya would play international football matches outside the country as authorities sorted out the mess at Kasarani and little sister, Nyayo National Stadium.
There is no way, critics avowed, that the pitch would be ready for a football match of any kind, let alone a potential encounter of the ages between Gor, the biggest club in the land versus an English team that has existed since 1904 within a month.
They were all wrong. The pitch at MISC Kasarani will be ready for the Gor versus Hull rumble, but only just.
On Wednesday, SportPesa News spoke to Riyad Maamatou, the Project Director at Gregori International, the French-based company contracted to ensure the playing surface will be ready to host Sunday’s clash and other international games beyond.
Maamatou conceded that despite the challenges they faced and steep deadlines, Gor and Hull will enjoy a good football game.
Kasarani’s original turf was uprooted to put in place the surface required for field athletics when it hosted the Nairobi 2018 IAAF World Under 18 Championships in July last year.
MISC remains one of the prominent permanent marks of Chinese architecture in Kenya when it was built for the 1987 All Africa Games on a 1000 acre piece of land, 16km from Nairobi’s CBD.
Over the years, it has witnessed memorable football and other sporting moments in its three-decade existence none bigger than when the late Ken Simiyu planted a header past Nigeria keeper, Peter Rufai in a 1998 World Cup qualifier that ended 1-1 on January 12, 1997.
Atlanta 1996 Olympic champions, the Super Eagles, brimming with fearsome talent such as Nwankwo Kanu, Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha, Sunday Oliseh, Daniel Amokachi, Celestine Babayaro and Tijani Babangida et al were saved by a Jonathan Akpoborie equaliser in the 50th minute in a result that reverberated throughout Africa.
On July 5, 2003, Kasarani was the scene that sparked national euphoria when Dennis ‘The Menace’ Oliech, now retired sent the entire country into orbit.
Oliech fired in an unstoppable 84th minute hammer of a shot that proved to be the winner for Harambee Stars against Cape Verde after receiving a lofted pass from Titus Mulama, not even allowing the ball to bounce on the turf.
The 1-0 results sent Kenya to the Tunisia 2004 Africa Cup of Nations finals; the last time the country has dined at the high table of continental football.
On Sunday, history is there for the making when K’Ogalo lock horns with the visiting Tigers thanks to a latter day man made wonder.