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Ismaily 'Goliath' task for Sofapaka

NAIROBI, Kenya, April 1- A week after national team, Harambee Stars, lifted an almost two year gloom for Kenyan fans with a cagey victory over Angola in their Nations Cup qualifier, it’s the turn of club side Sofapaka FC to extend the feel good factor when they face Egypt’s Ismaily in a CAF Confederations Cup tie.

History however, is dead set against the 2009 Kenyan Premier League (KPL) champions who earned the rights to feature in this tournament by winning last season’s Football Kenya Limited Cup.

No Kenyan outfit of any shape or form has ever toppled an Egyptian team from a continental event and trailing 2-0 from the first leg of their second round match a fortnight ago, Sofapaka are already carrying more than the proverbial donkey burden into Saturday’s return encounter.

Naturally, Sofapaka camp has been preaching optimism rather than conviction they can sail to uncharted waters after the final whistle at Nyayo National Stadium.

For the record, they need to score three clear goals or more than their Egyptian opponents to advance outright or at least, equal Ismaily’s tally from the first leg to enter the lottery of spot-kicks.

This is the route they took to advance to the second round when they out-shot Angola’s Aviacao 6-5 on post-match penalties at Nyayo after two 0-0 stalemates last month.

“Sofapaka made history when we won KPL in our maiden season. We have also made history by advancing to the second round of the Confederations Cup on our first time and history can again be made on Saturday.

“We know the poor record Kenyans have against Egyptian teams but we have the characters in Sofapaka who can make us to become the first team to beat them,” skipper James Situma said.

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He added: “We played very well in the first leg and they two goals they scored were hard luck. We know this is the last chance we have in this year’s tournament and if we repeat the same performance, then I believe beating them is possible.”

“The problem we have against Egyptian teams is all mental. Our players believe they have already lost when they take to the field against them. We have been preaching to our players we can beat them if we focus and they have got the message. But we will not stop preaching until the final moment,” Sofapaka manager, Jimmy Ambajo, said of the so called Magreb Curse that has chronically affected Kenyan teams against North African opposition.

Having met the same side at last year’s CAF Champions League where the Egyptians prevailed 2-0 on aggregate after forcing Sofapaka to a barren draw before sealing their exit in Ismailia, the Kenyan side know what they are up against on Saturday.

“I intend to play very high with the ball when we have possession and when we lose the ball since we cannot afford the game to be played in our final third. Our problem in the first leg and Kenyan teams in general is we are poor in playing in our final third of the pitch,” Sofapaka caretaker coach, Ezekiel Akwana noted.

“The only way is to go for the early goal and if that is achieved, then others can come since they will be forced to come out of their defence and open more space for us to hit them,” the man who will preside over his last match as head of the technical bench before Francis Kimanzi takes over on Sunday added.

Ismaily coach, Mark Wofee, has ruled out the possibility of an upset simply stating, “I do not see how they can score three goals against us but we have come here expecting a tough game and we are ready for them.”

While his statement can be construed to read contempt to Sofapaka, Wofee is not far off the mark.

Sofapaka’s approach-play this season and indeed for the past year has been pleasing to the eye but like all Kenyan outfits, scoring goals is at high premium.

Their league top scorer from last year, John Baraza, is yet to get off the mark this season while 2008 KPL Golden Boot winner and strike partner, Francis Ouma, who made a prodigious return to KPL after failed professional stints in Tanzania and Belgium, has also been blunt upfront.

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Dependable winger Bob Mugalia, who has weighed in with crucial goals since his signing from KPL rivals AFC Leopards has also been undergoing a lean spell while at the back Sofapaka will miss the services of their first choice centre half pairing of Edgar Ochieng (suspended) and George Owino (injured).

Therefore, it is hard to foretell where attacking inspiration will come from for Sofapaka who will rely on Anthony Kimani as the midfield creative force as opposed to Ismaily who have seven Egypt internationals in their ranks, four who played in their Nations Cup qualifier against South Africa.

Midfielder Hosni Abed Rabou and striker Mohamed Abougreisha who scored in the first leg were joined by Amro Solea and Mohamed Farag in the Pharaoh’s 1-0 defeat away to Bafana Bafana.

In the knowledge they face a harsh test, Sofapaka rank and file have turned to the fans to give them the lift they need to at least unsettle the seasoned Egyptians.

“In Egypt, their fans made the difference and we should learn for them that is why we are opening our doors to all Kenyans to come and support our boys since we will not play as Sofapaka but we will be flying our country’s flag,” club president, Elly Kalekwa, implored local football supporters.

This tie pits hope against harsh reality, the Biblical contest of David versus Goliath, only this time, the latter looks set to dodge the fatal sling shots unless the miracle happens for Sofapaka, the self-styled Watoto wa Mungu (Children of God).

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