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Kenyan trio in Zambia hungry for Champions League glory

Zesco United's David 'Calabar' Owino vying for the ball in a past CAF Champions League match.PHOTO/courtesy.
Zesco United’s David ‘Calabar’ Owino vying for the ball in a past CAF Champions League match.PHOTO/courtesy.

NDOLA, Zambia May 4- Since the days of Gor Mahia’s conquest at the 1987 Mandela Cup, then known as CAF Cup Winners’ Cup as well as Tusker’s final appearance in the same tournament in 1994, Kenyan clubs have failed to make an impression in continental football.

In the recent past, only Sofapaka have come close to a group stage appearance when they exited the 2011 CAF Confederation Cup in the round of 16, just one step to the group stages with a 4-3 aggregate loss to Tunisian giants Club Africain who went on to lose 5-6 on penalties to Moroccan side Maghreb Association Sportive de Fez in the final.

But despite local clubs failing to fly the flag high in the continent, three Kenyans plying their trade in the Zambian League with Zesco United are determined to amend for their home clubs failing to stamp authority.

Harambee Stars defender David ‘Calabar’ Owino, midfielder Anthony Akumu and forward Jesse Were have been an important component of the Zambian giants’ campaign at the 2016 CAF Champions League, leading them to a group stage appearance for only the second time in their history.

None of the three in their previous clubs have ever made it past the first round of any continental tournament and after surpassing their previous records, their aim is to further the achievement.

“I have played CAF competitions for four years and never gone past the first round. It is such a huge thing for me and gives me a lot of motivation. As a club, our primary target was to get to the group stage. We worked hard as a team and this is a great reward achieving our target,” Owino who is playing his second season with Zesco told Capital Sport.

Kenya's Zesco United players Jesse Were (left) and David 'Calabar' Owino (right)
Kenya’s Zesco United players Jesse Were (left) and David ‘Calabar’ Owino (right).PHOTO/courtesy

Since arriving in Ndola in January 2015, Owino has been an ever present figure in George Lwandamina’s squad and has missed only one of their six African Champions League matches due to suspension.

In a previous interview, Lwandamina described the defender as one of the most intelligent he has worked with.

Owino is hopeful the club’s fairy tale does not end in the last eight.

“It is a move in the right direction because we will play with some of the continent’s best players and it is a chance for us to prove ourselves. This is also an opportunity for us to open bigger doors for ourselves and we are ready to work hard to get the best we can out of it,” the former Gor Mahia and Karuturi Sports defender added.

Owino was joined by two other Kenyans in January, former Gor team mate Anthony Akumu and last season SportPesa Premier League Golden Boot winner Jesse Were.

Akumu and Were have also played equal roles in Zesco’s superb Champions League run.

Were has scored two goals in continental football while in the league, he has hit the back of the net seven times in five matches.

He has attributed the quick settling down in Zambia to the presence of Owino and Akumu who have made him feel almost at home.

“To be honest, I knew I wanted to do well but I didn’t expect such a good start. The presence of Owino and Akumu has played a key role in seeing me settled and I am hoping I can do better,” Were told Capital Sport.

Kenya's Zesco United trio David 'Calabar' Owino (left), Jesse Were (center) and Anthony Teddy Akumu (right). PHOTO/courtesy
Kenya’s Zesco United trio David ‘Calabar’ Owino (left), Jesse Were (center) and Anthony Teddy Akumu (right). PHOTO/courtesy

He has previously played a CAF competition only once, in 2013 with Tusker FC and the side only made it to the first round.

Were is over the moon after finally tasting the money bracket of CAF competitions and he hopes to give in even more for the club to progress further.

“It is a dream come true because all along I have always hoped to achieve this. When we signed for the club with Teddy in January, our target was to reach the group stages of the Champions League. We have achieved that and it is not to say the work has come to an end,” Were offered.

His sentiments were shared by Akumu who has made the defensive midfielder role his own at Zesco.

“The work has just begun for us. Getting to the group stage was the first target and now we set another. Hopefully we get off the group and into the semi-final. That will be a huge plus for us,” Akumu, the 2012 KPL midfielder of the year stated.

Zesco has equaled their best ever performance in a CAF competition, getting into the group stage for the first time since 2009.

They find themselves among Africa’s best ahead of the group stage draw on May 24.

Clubs who have qualified include Algeria’s ES Setif, AS Vita Club (DR Congo), Zamalek SC (Egypt), Asec Mimosas (Ivory Coast), Wydad Casablanca (Morocco) and Nigeria’s Enyimba.