NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 9 – Ulinzi Stars will miss the services of John Mark Makwatta for their CAF Confederations Cup tie against Libya’s Al Hilal Benghazi after the striker failed to secure his passport from the United Kingdom embassy in time.
Makwatta is among the Kenyan Premier League All-Star team which is set to travel to England to play English Premier League side Hull City in a friendly match February 27 and his passport is still in South Africa for visa processing.
“They had said the passport would be back here on Wednesday and we had organized for Makwatta’s travel to Cairo on the same day. However, we have not gotten it and the tickets we had already bought will go to waste,” a fuming Ulinzi Stars vice chairman Major Joe Birgen told Capital Sport.
“We feel aggrieved as a club because this is an important game for us and one of our core players is missing and the organizers of the game in the UK are not even telling us anything. We can’t take this lightly and we are considering pulling our players out of that trip.”
Makwatta was the Kenyan Premier League top scorer last season with 15 goals and was also his club’s overall top scorer having scored 26 goals across all competitions.
His absence will be a huge blow for Ulinzi especially with head coach Benjamin Nyangweso lamenting of a blunt forward line during the club’s pre-season friendly matches.
However, Nyangweso is putting faith that his side will be in good shape to pick out a result in Cairo’s Military Academy Stadium on Friday evening.
-Ulinzi arrive in Cairo-
Ulinzi arrived in the North African country on Wednesday morning and will have their first training session on Thursday evening with Nyangweso’s eyes focusing on sealing the tie after the first leg.
“It is not an easy match for us but these are the kind of games you win in the first leg. The most important thing for us is to go there and try to win. If we get an away goal, that will be a huge advantage for us. The least we should come out with is a draw,” the tactician said.
Ulinzi makes a return to continental football for the first time since 2011 when they suffered an embarrassing 5-0 aggregate loss to Zamalek in the preliminary round of the Champions League but the coach says they are now wiser and have prepared themselves to make a better impression.
“That was our very first time playing in such a big stage and we didn’t’ know what to expect. This time we have done our homework well and prepared adequately. Everybody wants to succeed in continental football,” he opined.
Skipper James Saruni has asked his team mates to give their all, remaining confident that with the good preparations they have had, they should be in a position to perform well and leave Cairo with a result.
“We have belief in ourselves because we have prepared well. It is not an easy assignment. We have to concentrate a lot because playing on an away ground is not easy. Above all, we should come out of there with one foot into the first round,” the shot stopper stated.
The coach has brought back two of the club’s most experienced players into the team, striker Evans Amwoka and midfield kingpin Stephen Ochollah making the cut of 22 players travelling for the first leg tie.
While Amwoka was part of the squad that played against Zamalek in 2011, Ochollah missed the tie with injury and he almost missed the Hilal tie as well with a thigh injury picked up in a friendly match against Mathare United late last month.
“At this stage you need a lot of experience and the two players will be an important part of this team. Apart from their contribution on the field, they also bring a lot of leadership on the pitch,” Nyangweso noted.
The match will be played at 5pm EAT (2pm GMT).
Ulinzi Stars squad in Cairo
Goalkeepers: James Saruni, Jacktone Odhiambo
Defenders: Geoffrey Kokoyo, Mohammed Hassan, Benson Sande, Omar Mbongi, Brian Birgen, Sylus Shitote, Hamissi Abdallah Oliver Kiprutto
Midfielders: Boniface Onyango, Churchill Muloma, John Kago, Stephen Ochollah, Samuel Onyango, Baron Oketch, Justin Onwong’a
Strikers: Oscar Wamalwa, Evans Amwoka, Enosh Ochieng, Daniel Waweru.