NAIROBI, May 8, Football- Veteran striker John Baraza stepped up two minutes from time to power Sofapaka through to the group stage play-offs of the CAF Confederation Cup at the expense of St Eloi Lupopo of DR Congo.
The match finished 1-0 to the home side after a tense four minutes of stoppage time that was enough to knock-out the Congolese side on the away goals rule after the first leg ended 2-1 in favour of Lupopo in Lubumbashi.
“I had to confirm my qualification here because I believe we qualified from Congo. At this you don’t expect to achieve anything easily,” coach Francis Kimanzi who made intelligent second half substitutions that finally delivered the goods said after the match.
Victory brought huge relief after a tumultuous week that saw Sofapaka president Elly Kalekwa suspend three top officials as well as Wednesday’s bitter Kenyan Premier League (KPL) defeat to bottom side City Stars.
Needing only an unanswered lone goal to advance, Sofapaka came up against a stubborn Lupopo side intent on holding out for a barren goal.
Baraza spurned the home side’s first opportunity in the 17th when he side footed a close range effort wide from an Anthony Kimani cross and the pair linked again five minutes to half-time but the forward’s finish was turned away by an inspired Kikanda Karuki in Lupopo’s goal.
The move was started by Titus Mulama who released Kimani with a sliding pass at the edge of the area and the midfielder delivered a low cross to Baraza who shifted the ball to his favoured left foot before drawing a terrific save from Karuki.
A couple of minutes later, it was the turn of Congolese born Kenyan international Bob Mugalia to be denied superbly by the Lupopo keeper.
Sofapaka were almost made to pay on the stroke of the breather when Carington Gomba left Mulama sprawled on the wet and slippery Nyayo National Stadium turf and his shot from range was fractionally wide of custodian George Opiyo’s left post.
After the break, the Congolese side enjoyed its best spell of the match and Tamudeze
Siunga had Opiyo scrambling to tip his 25 yard shot past the post on 53 minutes.
Kimanzi threw on Patrick Kagogo and John Onami for Anthony Kimani and John Njoroge to spur his attack.
Onami came agonisingly close to breaking the stalemate on 76 minutes when his goal bound close range header brought out the most astounding save of the match from Karuki.
Mugalia then failed to score from three yards barely three minutes later after sustained pressure from Sofapaka in the Lupopo box saw the ball ricochet to his path.
Kimanzi threw his last trump card by bringing on Thomas Wanyama for Mugalia nine minutes to time and the decision did not sit well with the fans.
However, the coach was vindicated when two minutes from time, Kagogo delivered a delightfully weighted cross field ball to Wanyama who sent in a floated delivery through the centre of Lupopo’s stubborn defence.
Baraza, 32, brought it under control before beating Karuki with a low finish to send the home fans into raptures and the Congolese players to their knees in despair.
Four minutes of extra time went up to only add more anxiety to the home team but there was still time for Humphrey Mieno to miss a glorious opportunity to seal the win when he drove unchecked to the Lupopo box, left Karuki on the turf but miscued the finish.
In the end it did not matter as Sofapaka’s march in the second tier of the continent’s elite competition claimed its third victim after Angola’s Aviacao and Egyptian giants Ismaily.
Next month, the 2009 KPL winners aiming to be the first local side to reach the final of continental competition since Kenya Breweries (now Tusker FC) in 1994 will feature in the group stage play-offs involving 16 other sides.
Winners of the two-legged play-offs will be pooled into two groups to contest for the Confederation Cup.
Sofapaka: 27 George Opiyo, 14 James Situma (Captain), 21 John Njoroge, 8 Dodo Kayombo, 5 Edgar Ochieng, 25 Musa Mudde, 20 Humphrey Mieno, 23 Titus Mulama, 9 John Baraza, 11 Bob Mugalia.
Subs: 1 Zachariah Onyango, 6 Idrissa Rajab, 19 John Onami, 7 Thomas Wanyama, 10 Patrick Kagogo, 15 Kilonzo Tumba, 16 Collins Omogo.
St. Eloi Lupopo: 1 Kikanda Karuki, 4 Muganga Djunga, 13 Kumwangis Ndibu, 20 Oswad Kalamba, 14 Mwanza Mulosi, 2 Kifumbo Mpiana, 25 Mumbere Mbusa, 18 Kapesa Bangala, 23 Etekiama Agiti, 8 Carington Gomba, 12 Tamudeze Ziunga.
Subs: 22 Kabeya Njumba, 16 Kabamba Musaya, 21 Abutoni Nzito, 6 Mundoni
Bolengo, 19 Ntongo Sambi, 9 Kam Ole, 5 Mabende Bembo