NAIROBI, Kenya, May 6 – Until Sofapaka FC tore Egyptian giants Ismaily apart in April to bundle them out of the CAF Confederations Cup, there was little to celebrate in domestic club football for more than two decades.
On Sunday, the 2009 Kenyan Premier League (KPL) champions take on Congolese side St. Eloi Lupopo seeking to continue their fairytale run in the second tier tournament of continental club football.
Trailing 2-1 from the first leg in Lubumbashi a fortnight ago, a lone unanswered strike is enough to send the self styled Watoto wa Mungu (Children of God) to the group stages of the tournament.
“Lupopo are a good team in attack and they scored against us twice. This is what we will watch out for and it means we have to remain disciplined as we go out on attack but I’m confident we can overturn the result from the first leg,” Sofapaka head coach, Francis Kimanzi said Friday.
However, their build-up to the match has been anything but inspiring.
Since Sofapaka president, Elly Kalekwa, viewed in local football circles as Kenya’s equivalent of English side Chelsea billionaire owner and Russian Oligarch Roman Abramovich unveiled Kimanzi as head coach, the team’s fortunes have taken a dramatic nosedive.
With a TC1 (UEFA Level B) qualification attained in a one-year training stint in Netherlands, the former Mathare United and Harambee Stars coach is the most qualified in the region and hence, the weight of expectations ahead of his coming bordered on the Messianic.
Three KPL loses against Rangers, champions Ulinzi and City Stars on Wednesday, defeat against Lupopo and a two drub draws have blotted the start of Kimanzi’s era at the Football Kenya Cup holders.
On Thursday, suspected internal differences in the club reached their boil when Kalekwa, known to demand a lot for his huge investment in the team- he has seen off four coaches in less than two years- suspended three officials for a month.
Assistant coach, Ezekiel Akwana, team manager Bernard Matindi and goal keeping trainer Alex Mwangi were shown the door accused of sabotage.
“They were taking joy in the downfall of the head coach and we have given them one month to be away from the first team. If they wish to move on, they are free to do so,” Kalekwa charged.
Akwana, who was the caretaker head coach when Kalekwa fired Ugandan national, Sam Ssimbwa at the tail end of last season’s KPL in November until Kimanzi’s arrival has ruled out a return to the outfit.
With his alleged saboteurs out of the way, Kimanzi faces the arduous task of overcoming a team that is leading the Congolese domestic league ahead of CAF Champions League champions, TP Mazembe.
Seven Sofapaka players were included in the provisional Harambee Stars squad named Friday piling more pressure on the coach to deliver.
Their opponents have brought 18 players for the tie with their coach Milosevic Lozar telling SuperSport.com, “I will not underrate them since they never gave up, they kept on fighting and that alone shows they have enough power to endure even extra time.
“They are capable of doing anything but they should also be informed I have brought few players who did not feature in the first leg that will provide more fireworks.”