NAIROBI, Kenya, August 14- Kenyan Premier League under-20 champions Ulinzi Warriors began their title defense with a 1-0 loss at the hands of Chemelil Sugar in a match played on Sunday at the Camp Toyoyo Ground.
Ban Kiprotich scored the winner two minutes into the second half to hand Chemelil a powerful start while the young military side will be forced to work hard in their next match against AFC Leopards’ cubs on Tuesday.
In the earlier kick-off, April’s fourth finisher Gor Mahia started off in superb fashion with a 3-1 win over Ushuru.
All attention was on the defending champions, who despite the loss, coach Fred Ogot still remains upbeat his side will come good and defend the title.
“If you look at last year, we lost one of our group matches and ended up being champions. I’m not worried because we played better today, created more chances than Chemelil but we were not clinical in our finishing,” the tactician told Capital Sport after the match.
Ulinzi were the better side in most part of the match but their forward line was thwarted by the impressive Kuol John at the heart of defense.
The lanky South Sudanese dealt with all danger aerial and ground threats, contributing to his side clean sheet.
“He (John) did his work very well because that is what we brought him four. It was a good team effort and it is great to start with a win. We came here to win this cup and we will work hard to achieve our target,” Chemelil coach Charles Odero said.
After both sides sizing each other up in the first half, the second began with more intensity especially with Chemelil scoring early.
Kiprotich was handed an opportunity for an easy tap in six yards out after Ulinzi keeper Samuel Odhiambo spilled a shot from the right by George Crowler.
Ulinzi missed their first choice custodian Francis Odemba who was the hero in April helping them to the title as he was held up with his school Passenga High preparing for the East Africa School Games which will be held in Eldoret.
Five minutes after opening the scores, Chemelil came close to doubling their tally with keeper Odhiambo saving a threat as Kuol volleyed the resultant corner wide after landing the ball isolated on the far left.
Ulinzi kept their pressure in search of an equalizer with their three-man attack led by Alex Sunga, Stephen Mueno and Moses Mwangi pumping the pressure on the sugar millers.
But their attempt at attacking with cross-balls posed no danger as the lanky Chemelil backline easily dealt with the floated balls.
From a counter attack in the 81st minute, Ulinzi keeper Samuel Odhiambo pulled a superb double save to keep his side in contention, first punching a shot from substitute Kennedy Onyango before spreading his body well to deny Innocent Oute from the rebound.
With the clock ticking, Ulinzi added more pressure and came close with Mwangi’s fierce shot from the right being saved for a corner by the Chemelil custodian after Mueni brought down the ball under pressure from Kuol to spray the pass wide for his team mate.