The lack of competitive football in Kenya came to haunt Ulinzi Stars as they suffered at the hands of Egyptian side Smouha, losing 4-0 in the first leg of the CAF Confederations Cup first round tie in Alexandria on Friday.
The soldiers have only played friendly matches with the league’s start having been halted by court cases. The results of the same were clear on the pitch with their hosts who are active in their domestic league looked sharper and fitter.
Islam Mohareb scored a goal in either half with Ahmed Raoof and Mahmoud Abdelaziz adding on to the haul as the Egyptians put one foot into the second round. Ulinzi’s hopes of making it into round two now hinge on the achievement of a victory of more than five goals in the return leg.
At best, a 4-0 result for the soldiers in Nairobi will take the game to penalties.
After a fast paced start to the match, Raoof broke the deadlock in the 10th minute with a controlled volley inside the box.
Mohareb made it 2-0 in the 20th minute after a quick interchange of passes inside the box to shoot low past James Saruni. Smouha opened up the Ulinzi defense by playing quick short passes especially at the edge of the box.
Ulinzi was forced to spend the entire opening 45 minutes in their own half. In the second period, the introduction of Baron Oketch for Sylus Shitote opened things up a bit for Ulinzi as it added more attacking impetus upfront.
Oketch had a shot go over, in Ulinzi’s closest opportunity to have a shot on target. Samwel Onyango was also exciting on the wings, but he could not be able to float in dangerous crosses that would trouble the hosts.
Smouha were relentless
Still, Smouha were relentless in their quest to have a good hold of the game.
Saruni single handedly ensured Ulinzi remained within touching distance. The custodian made two good saves, one going down well to deny Mohareb’s snap shot inside the box while the second was from a long range effort.
The keeper was however breached for the third in the 68th minute though at some point the ref seemed to have awarded a foul in his favor.
Abdelaziz had clashed with the keeper as he headed in from a corner and upon consultation with his assistant the ref awarded the goal. The hosts drilled killed off the match in the 86th minute, Mohareb scoring a superb volley from inside the box.
Elsewhere back at home, the league will kick off as scheduled on Saturday despite Sofapaka heading to court late on Friday afternoon.
According to Ambrose Rachier, the KPL chairman, the injunction obtained by Sofapaka does not stop the league from starting.
“The order in itself is vague because it does not give specific direction. I have also talked to the Sofapaka lawyer and told him I cannot execute the same orders because it is not specific. As far as I am concerned, the league kicks off as planned.”
Rachier, a seasoned city lawyer told Sports News Arena. The order from the high court read; ”This matter coming up for the directions before Hon. Olga Sewe on 10th March 2017 and upon hearing counsel for the applicant in absence of counsel for the respondent.
"It is ordered that the status quo now obtaining as at 3;30pm be maintained pending further orders by Mr Justice Tuiyott on 15th March 2017, granted that the judge will be off the casuelist on 13th March 2017.”
Sofapaka’s case over their demotion from top flight football over club licensing reasons has been heard at the Sports Dispute Tribunal. The ruling will be made on Wednesday next week.
Six matches lined up
Meanwhile, six matches have been lined up for the opening weekend after a delay of close to five weeks.
All four newly promoted sides will be in action with Nzoia aaway to defending champions Tusker FC, Nakumatt away to Bandari, Zoo Kericho at home to Posta Rangers while Kariobangi Sharks will be at home to Gor Mahia.
Sharks will hope for a positive start despite the fact they will miss four of their key players who are sidelined with injury for between three to 12 weeks.
Captain Eric Juma is the worst hit having undergone knee surgery and is not expected back until June. Cavin Odongo (knee, three weeks), Massoud Juma (fracture, six weeks) and Ebrimah Sanneh (shin, four weeks) are all ruled out.
William Muluya, the Sharks coach is however not worried that his side will be weakened. He beams with confidence of the depth in his squad.
On the match, he anticipates a tough encounter but remains hopeful his charges will deliver a first Premier League win.
Gor Mahia, 15-time winners of the KPL say they have learnt from their 2016 mistakes when they lost the title to Tusker after a poor start.
“This time we have to start strongly because that is what will spur us into the season. It will be tough against Sharks because we know they will come all out this being their first Premier League match,” skipper Musa Mohammed noted.
They will be spurred by their KPL Super Cup win over league champions Tusker FC last weekend. The brewers meanwhile will be out to deflate the huge pressure on their shoulders after losing the Super Cup, barely a fortnight after exiting the CAF Champions League.
They face a tough Nzoia side which hopes to maintain the same form they had in the National Super League last season where they lost only two out of 38 matches.
KPL Weekend fixtures
Saturday: Tusker FC v Nzoia United (2 p.m. - Afraha Stadium), Bandari FC v Nakumatt (3 p.m. - Mbaraki Complex).
Sunday: Mathare United v Thika United (2 p.m), Kariobangi Sharks v Gor Mahia (4:15 p.m Thika Stadium), Sony Sugar v Chemelil Sugar (3 p.m - Awendo Stadium), Zoo Kericho v Posta Rangers (2 p.m. -Afraha Stadium).