Ulinzi Stars, Kenya’s representatives in the CAF Confederations Cup came inches close to progressing to the second round for the first time ever in their history after beating Egypt's Smouha 3-0.
But, they were left ruing their luck after a 4-3 aggregate score as a result of losing 0-4 in the first leg in Alexandria last weekend.
Samuel Onyango scored a first half brace while left back Omar Mbongi scored with 18 minutes to spare in Ulinzi’s futile great comeback.
“I am pleased with the fighting spirit shown by my players. We knew it was going to be tough but we came in with the right mentality. We played our all but unluckily we couldn’t get to progress,” Benjamin Nyangweso, the Ulinzi Stars coach said after the game.
Smouha’s Moanen Soliman was full of praise for the Kenyan soldiers and was pleased with the attitude they showed. He said they ‘played like men’ while also adding his side was affected by the altitude difference.
“We could not run well, they won all the second balls and we failed to control the game. Congratulations to Ulinzi, they are a very good team and we are lucky to go through,” Soliman told Sports News Arena.
Having been outplayed in the first leg in Alexandria last Friday especially in midfield, Nyangweso made some adjustments. He deployed three in central midfield, Boniface Onyango and John Kago anchoring infront of the back four while Churchill Muloma played the pivot between the two and the attack.
It was a tact that paid off with Ulinzi dictating play and possession while goalkeeper James Saruni did not face a single shot on target, save for a few cross balls.
The soldiers got the party started in the 10th minute, Onyango picking out a well weighted cross from Daniel Waweru before slapping it past the keeper at the edge of the six yard box.
It was a perfect start for the soldiers who knew in the least a 4-0 result would take the game to penalties and the earlier they buried the chances the better for them. Evans Amwoka and Onyango were a thorn with their pace in either wing and it was the single point Ulinzi used to try and get the second.
Amwoka should have taken his side 2-0 up but his quick interchange with Onyango saw the ball roll out as he raced to pull the trigger. The pressure kept going and in the 37th minute, they got the second goal.
Onyango intercepted a back pass to the keeper, faced him one on one and beat him burying the ball into the roof of the net.
At the stroke of half time, it would have been 3-0 but Amwoka’s effort went narrowly wide after being put through by the impressive Onyango.
In the second half, the soldiers kept the same tempo but were disrupted after John Kago was sent to the showers. The midfielder’s two rushed challenges saw him pick successive yellow cards.
The numerical disadvantage weighed down on the soldiers as they lacked the numbers in midfield and the visitors started swinging the ball around.
Ulinzi’s quest was not helped by the time wasting tactics employed by the North Africans especially their keeper Nahdi Mohammed who went down at any available chance.
The soldiers drew closer when they got the third goal, Mbongi’s freekick from the edge of the box deflecting off the wall and into the net. With 18 minutes to go, there was belief in the Ulinzi camp that a fourth goal was always coming and they upped the ante.
Ulinzi’s surge was almost nipped in the bud in the 80th minute when Islam Mohareb broke off the right on a counter, beat Geoffrey Kokoyo but his shot from the right went wide of Saruni’s goal.
They dumped balls into the Smouha area in search of a goal. The lanky Oscar Wamalwa was introduced in the 85th minute with the sole purpose of winning the aerial balls and dropping the down for his mates to score.
Waweru had an effort from one such move but his shot from the weaker left foot was collected by the keeper. Kokoyo also had a late effort with a header from a corner but the keeper once again collected.
Focus on the league
Ulinzi will now focus on the league and they will have at least a fortnight before their first match of the 2017 season as the coming week will be for international games.
Elsewhere, Gor Mahia raged to the top of the KPL table after a 1-0 win over Nzoia United at the Moi Stadium in Kisumu.
New signing Kenneth Muguna returned to the ground where he honed his skill with a thump, scoring the all important goal as Gor cruised to their second season win.
Nzoia United who won 5-2 against Tusker on match day one were held to a barren draw by Mathare United in the first ever Premier League match at the Sudi Stadium in Bungoma in 12 years.
Weekend results and fixtures
CAF Confederations Cup: Ulinzi Stars 3 Smouha 0 (Kenyatta Stadium, Machakos)
KPL Saturday: Posta Rangers 0 Bandari FC 0 (Thika Sub-County Stadium), Gor Mahia 1 Zoo Kericho 0 (Moi Stadium, Kisumu), Nzoia United 0 Mathare United 0 (Sudi Stadium, Bungoma, 3 p.m.), Chemelil Sugar 1 Kakamega Homeboyz 1 (Chemelil Complex).
Sunday fixtures: Muhoroni Youth v Kariobangi Sharks (Muhoroni Stadium 3 p.m.), Sofapaka v Sony Sugar (Afraha Stadium 3:45 p.m.), Thika United v Tusker FC (2 p.m.), Nakumatt FC v AFC Leopards (Thika Sub-County Stadium – 4:15 p.m.).