NAIROBI, Kenya, November 20- Goalkeeper Ivo Mapunda and his white towel-if you believe in superstition-were the heroes for Gor Mahia on Tuesday night as the club defended their Football Kenya Federation Cup 3-0 on penalties in a bizarre final.
Ten days after the Green Army were flooded in tears after losing out on the league title at the death, K’Ogalo fans burst out in ecstasy after Mapunda saved from Eugene Asike and Abdallah Juma as Humphrey Mieno blasted his spot-kick wide to take Gor to the CAF Confederation Cup with the win.
Ivan Anguyo, Moses Odhiambo and Rama Salim tucked in their efforts to hand Gor their second trophy of the season after lifting the KPL Top 8 crown to invite their supporters who invaded the pitch after the end of the pulsating encounter to pour out to the streets in rancorous celebration.
The main sub-plot of the match that Sofapaka who contrived to hit the post thrice over the gruelling 120 minutes dominated was the towel in Mapunda’s goal that caused the match to be stopped in extra time when players in the opposing team threw it away.
“There was nothing about the towel; I just wanted to disturb their minds. I’m experienced and that is how I know how to play penalties, it was a technique,” the hero of the moment Mapunda said adding, “I learned that from watching Oliver Kahn,” in reference to the retired Germany and Bayern Munich legend.
The dramatic closing moments of the match do not tell even half the story of the final that unfolded at Nairobi’s Nyayo National Stadium.
“I have to congratulate my players; we hit the post three times and played good football. For now, we have to get back to the drawing board. We dominated the game and my players gave their all,” shattered Sofapaka coach David Ouma said amid the din of rejoicing Gor fans that were bursting their lungs around him.
In a repeat of last year’s final, Sofapaka got off the blocks in inspired fashion and with nine minutes on the clock Heritier Luvualu launched a determined run from the left and fed Joseph Nyaga who brilliantly turned from Gor’s defence but fired just wide with Mapunda to beat.
Three minutes later, Mieno, who would otherwise been the man of the match, fed Anthony Kimani and his finish caused a goal mouth scramble but Gor survived.
On 17, Teddy Akumu burst through the midfield and unloaded a powerful strike from range that Duncan Ochieng in the Sofapaka goal did well to parry out for a corner.
Mieno, veteran striker, John Baraza, Luvualu and Nyaga took turns to squander opportunities with Ugandan striker, Dan Sserunkuma, Gor’s potent threat upfront together with Rama Salim trying to force the issue for K’Ogalo as the sides went to the break deadlocked at 0-0.
In the second half, Ouma brought on Eli Asieche for Luvualu and his side with Mieno growing in influence stepped up a gear, with the lanky midfielder involved in three shooting opportunities in a matter of three minutes at the hour mark.
At that stage, Gor Croat coach, Zradvko Logarusic had hauled off Sserunkuma, who looked to be suffering the after effects of the injury that saw him withdrawn in their 2-1 semi final win over AFC Leopards on Saturday for Edwin Lavatsa.
Mapunda saved the first Mieno strike, the second flashed just wide and the third was blocked by the defence and in the 63rd, Baraza went even closer with a far post header that was just kept out prompting Logarusic to bring on Victor Abondo for Joseph Njuguna in midfield.
In the final ten minutes, the sides traded amazing chances to score with Baraza hitting the post from a corner on 82 before Gor captain, Moses Odhiambo, missed an open goal five minutes later when he blazed wide when it seemed easier to score.
In true Kenyan fashion, FKF had initially indicated the match would go straight to spot-kicks if there was no winner after 90 but somewhere in the middle, the decision to play extra-time was made.
So after 95 minutes with the scores 0-0, the teams lined-up for extra-time and that is when Mapunda’s towel gained cult status.
From a corner five minutes into the first period, the keeper who started out shaky in goal but gained confidence as the match went on approached referee Sylvester Kirwa to remonstrate after a Sofapaka player took the towel from his goal and threw it away.
That was the cue for Gor fans to start chanting for it to be returned from the stands holding play for some minutes. With the towel back, the corner was delivered and Mapunda spilled the ball and gathered it on the second attempt as “Taulo! Taulo! Taulo! (Towel! Towel! Towel!),” cries rent the air.
Again, the wiping cloth was hailed the saviour when Mapunda turned a ferocious Nyaga shot to his post with Baraza, who had counted it in skied the rebound with a yawning goal to aim at.
That was the closest the sides came to break the stalemate and penalties were called to decide the winner with Mapunda, towel in shoulders, faced Asike with the trembling keeper technique after wiping his face. Asike fired low to his left and he saved.
Ochieng was smartly beaten by Anguyo before Mapunda repeated his antics to thwart Juma this time by diving to the right. After the Gor captain calmly slotted in for 2-0, Mieno sealed his night of nerves by striking the cross bar.
“I need good dinner and perhaps a Kenyan woman tonight. It was a good victory for us after missing the league and we have won two out of three trophies after coming from the bottom of the table.
“For now, let us celebrate this and I will decide what to do when tomorrow comes,” the Croat mused in the dressing room flowing with champagne.
As for Mapunda’s towel, here’s a sample of what Gor fans posted on the club’s Face Book wall as a new branch was opened in its honour.
Adhoch Dennises: TOWEL BRANCH aseyao e Gor kae. Registration going on.
Joe Gidi: They say Gor Mahia followers are the 12th Man then Mapunda’s Towel is the 13th MAN, Congrats Kogalo
Abu Thwalib: Towel kwa Oswayo ni ‘TAULO’…