NAIROBI, Kenya, July 24- In the end, the cruel lottery of penalties was called upon to separate seasoned domestic league champions, Tusker FC and spirited challengers, Thika United who were seeking their first trophy in their pulsating Wednesday KPL Top 8 Cup final at City Stadium.
Records will indicate Tusker won the breathtaking decider 5-3 on penalties but this was a fixture that kept all those fortunate to witness it on the pitch and live on television glued until the winning spot-kick was dispatched with panache by Khalid Aucho when the see-saw encounter ended in a 2-2 stalemate after extra-time.
In summary, it started as a tale of Thika’s David Kingatua who opened the scoring with a picturesque strike on 16 minutes and Tusker’s Ismail Dunga who levelled from the spot four minutes later.
Dunga notched his double with a delicate lob past Lucas Indeche in the Thika goal after lashing on to a fine Aucho lifted central pass before Kingatua matched his feat by sweeping in the equaliser with four minutes left to full time after connecting perfectly with a drag back cross in the box.
The double actors traded opportunities in the extra period before penalties were called upon to decide the destination of the Cup and the Sh1m, winner-takes-it-all cash prize.
Dunga led again from the front when he stroked the first penalty past a listless Indeche before Vincent Omumbo made it 1-1. Tusker goalie, Sammy Odhiambo made a fool of his opposite number for 2-1 to usher in the final twist in the plot.
Substitute forward, Ezekiel Odera’s indecisive long run-up alerted Odhiambo to his intent, the Tusker keeper diving to his right to smoulder his feeble effort. It was an advantage the Brewers never relinquished, with Ali Abondo, Collins Okoth and Aucho completing the business after Sammy Meja and Simon Mbugua kept Thika in it with successful conversions.
“We were just unlucky, penalties you never know, you have to accept, we are disappointed but we can only move forward in our next league match. We have to pull ourselves in the league,” a crest-fallen Kingatua who was voted man-of-the-match rued as the milkmen continued their poor run of results that have seen them relinquish the leadership of the league to Gor Mahia in the past fortnight.
For Tusker and their beleaguered coach, Robert Matano, succeeding Ulinzi and Gor as Top 8 champions brought much respite after coming to the final at the back of two morale sapping KPL defeats to Mathare United and Muhoroni Youth that has derailed their title defence, leaving them languishing in ninth.
“It’s a good start, we have been performing poorly and we needed a good performance. It was tough since Thika wanted to win their first trophy and we had to rise to the occasion.
“I worked on the mentality of the players that was not right and we have to pick ourselves now. I’m happy for this trophy and I want to win more,” the relieved Brewers’ tactician told after coming through the sternest of tests.
“When it comes to penalties, it is a tricky situation, I’m happy with the boys, we basically have to keep on working, we dominated the game but football is a game of chances.
“It came to a situation of penalties and that chance we lost cost us the Cup. At one point our keeper made good saves, I’m not blaming my goalkeeper, he has brought us far,” Thika’s head coach, John Kamau offered on the morale sapping defeat, refusing to blame Indeche for not turning up during the spot-kicks.
His side enjoyed the better start, tormenting Tusker from the left flank where Meja and Kingatua found much joy and it was thoroughly deserved when they nosed ahead.
Meja’s cross from that wing was cushioned by Harambee Stars midfielder, Francis Kahata for Kingatua to apply the most exquisite of finishes; thumping the ball past Odhiambo who dived full-length but he stood no chance.
Tusker pressed forward wounded and in the 20th, they had their equaliser after Dunga kept his cool to beat Indeche from the spot after Thika were penalised for handball.
Striker Kepha Awani should have restored Thika’s lead on 23 after being worked into space by the mercurial Kingatua but the Harambee Stars man fired well over when a simpler finish would have sufficed.
In the second half, Kingatua stinging effort on the hour mark forced Odhiambo to punch it back to play before Dunga applied the finish from Aucho’s inch-perfect delivery to give the Brewers a 2-1 lead on 79 minutes.
Thika continued with their eye-catching wing play and again, their second goal came from a sweeping interchange of passing from the left, Kingatua side-footing it to the bottom corner to take the game to extra-time.
Dunga’s bicycle kick three minutes into the added period flashed just wide after ping-pong in the Thika box before Kingatua sent a free-kick wide with the two players chasing the hat-trick with intent.
Tusker sub Kennedy Opiyo then took over, forcing Indeche to double-fist his ferocious rising shot from close range away before Kahata came even closer when Odhiambo parried his thumping strike out for a fruitless corner ten minutes to the end of extra-time.