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Sofapaka stun Ismaily

NAIROBI, Kenya, April 2- Sofapaka finally shattered the Magreb Curse that has yoked Kenyan football for decades when they became the first club to eliminate and Egyptian side from continental competition after they dumped Ismaily out of the CAF Continental Cup on Saturday.The self-styled ‘Watoto wa Mungu’ (Children of God), came to the match as the Biblical David underdogs but slew the mighty ‘Goliath’ Ismaily with four devastating sling shots that turned a 2-0 first leg deficit into a 4-2 aggregate win that qualified them to the play-offs for the group stage of the competition.

As fans trooped out of Nyayo National Stadium in disbelief, Sofapaka gave their caretaker coach the dream send-off as head of the technical bench with the new man at
the helm Francis Kimanzi, who was watching from the stands, taking over from Sunday.

“We believed we could make history and finally our jinx against Egyptian teams has been broken. This means Kenyan football is on the rise and as Sofapaka, we are so proud of giving Kenyans this result,” captain James Situma, who had promised on Thursday his team would go for the prized scalp of Ismaily said.

“Sofapaka are a history making club and our aim is to continue making more. We won the league on our maiden season in 2009, now we have advanced to the third round of a continental championship and we shall continue going on,” he added.

The thrashing was accomplished with the panache Ismaily or any other decorated Egyptian side would have been proud of saw as Sofapaka turned in a shift more associated with the North Africans particularly in the fast half.

From the first whistle, the Football Kenyan Cup holders went on the offensive and their veteran striker, John Baraza, should have made the decisive breakthrough in the fourth minute when Ismaily’s defense were all at sea.

Anthony Kimani, the creative midfielder who had a torrid game by his standards then shot over before he fortuitously gave his side the lead on 26 minutes. Ismaily’s keeper Mohammed Sobhi had a moment to forget when he turned Kimani’s looping long range shot into his own goal.

With their tails up, Sofapaka continued to lay siege in the visitors final third  and on 39 minutes, the interchange of passes between winger, Bob Mugalia, midfielder Humphrey Mieno and Baraza saw the latter shoot only for Sobhi’s jelly hands to parry the ball his effort back to the box.

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In a flash, Mugalia pounced to level the tie on aggregate. The fans had hardly a moment to sit when another sweeping move from the hosts saw Baraza take the ball to the byline and cut an inch perfect pass back to midfield dynamo, Titus Mulama who beat Sobhi from three yards barely two minutes later.
The Sofapaka sucker punch had Ismaily reeling and their coach, Mark Woffe admitted it had knocked the stuffing out of his festooned side.

“I did not recognize my team in the first half. We gave Sofapaka too much space and they showed they are a good side by taking advantage. My team lacked ideas and looked out of depth,” the Dutchman stated.

To pile on the misery, Ismaily lost striker, Hosni Ibrahim and midfield lynchpin, Amr Mohammed to injury in a torrid first half where replacement forward, Abdallah Mohammed threatened to draw the sides level at 1-1 when his curving low shot was tipped to safety by Sofapaka keeper, Zachary Onyango.

Woffe’s first half team talk had the desired effect as Ismaily came out blazing for the second period. Mohammed spurned three great chances to score the goal that would have won them the tie on the away goals rule with danger midfielder, Mo Abougrisha who netted in the first leg also coming close with a well taken shot that was inches over.

At times, Sofapaka were hanging on by a thread with Dodo Kayombo and Situma at centre back as well as Onyango forced into last-gasp interventions to retain their advantage and when five minutes of extra-time went up, the stadium joined en masse to the unease.

The Kenyan side seemed ripe for punishment after wasting glorious chances on the break with Baraza on two occasions, Humphrey Mieno and Patrick Kagogo who came in for the impressive Mugalia the culprits but in the final 60 seconds of time added on, it finally clicked.

Baraza raced to a long clearance, checked inside and rolled the ball to Kagogo who made no mistake with a gaping net ahead of him. Cue in manic scenes as the Sofapaka rank and file, including Akwana, raced to throw bodies into the goal scorer.
Moments later, it was all over with shell-shocked Ismaily players leaving the field in tears as their conquerors lapped the adulation.

“I’m happy my boys played according to instruction. Sofapaka we are history breakers and this is a church team and if you believe in God, nothing is impossible. For me, I’m happy to have brought the team this far as a caretaker coach,” Akwana gushed.

“I missed the first leg and for me to return and help the team win is great. I dedicate my goal to all Kenyans and my fans but today we showed what you can achieve if you believe in yourselves. We had a plan to score early and when we did, we had faith we would win,” Mugalia, who alongside Situma played in three matches in seven days, two for Harambee Stars and the continental tie enthused.

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The play-offs for the group stage of the Confederation Cup will take place on the weekends of May 27 to 29 and June 10 to 12 where Sofapaka, who have no doubt sent shock waves to Africa, will aim to sustain their dream.

“Under Kimanzi, we will plot about the next Confederation Cup matches when the time comes. For now, it’s back to the Kenyan Premier League and we have a big game against (leaders) Tusker on Tuesday. We cannot rest on this,” Akwana summed.

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