NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 18- Ulinzi Stars are through to the first round of the CAF Confederations Cup after a nervous 5-4 post-match penalties win over Libya’s Al Hilal Benghazi at Kasarani Stadium on Saturday.
Goalkeeper and skipper James Saruni brought Ulinzi back to the game after Enosh Ochieng had missed his penalty while Libya’s Esam Alamshi saw his spot kick hit the crossbar in the sudden death kicks after a 4-4 tie in the first five penalties.
“I am very pleased that we have won. It was a tough match but all along I knew we would win. We could have wrapped up the game in 90 minutes but we lost so many chances and the Libya team made it harder for us by wasting time. But now the focus is on the next round,” Ulinzi Stars head coach Benjamin Nyangweso said after the match.
An elated Saruni disclosed that the soldiers who had camped for a whole week at the Kabete Barracks had trained on penalties well.
“We had worked so well in training and we knew in any case the game would go to penalties, we would win. It is such a huge win for us as a team and the focus remains for the next match,” Saruni said.
The game was forced into penalties after Ulinzi won 1-0 via a Samuel Onyango penalty, taking the aggregate score to 1-1.
Oscar Wamalwa and Baron Oketch both took well taken penalties in the first two attempts for Ulinzi. Saruni came inches close to picking out Hilal’s first two kicks taken by Faisal Albadri and Air Sanogo.
Enosh saw his spot kick powerfully punched away by the Al Hilal keeper Murad Alwuheeshi, but Saruni redeemed his teammate’s image with a fine save to pick out Abdallah Alshaafi’s spot kick.
Onyango and John Mark Makwatta scored the next two for Ulinzi while Ali Maetouq and Muad Alamami responded for the visitors.
Heading into sudden death, Mbongi scored a well taken left footed kick and Alamshi struck the woodwork for Ulinzi to book a first round ticket where they will face Egyptian side Smouha.
In regular time, Saruni remained untested as Al Hilal sought to kill the clock with every available opportunity. Up until Onyango’s opener in the 20th minute, the game hadn’t seen much of scoring opportunities.
From the team that played in the first leg, Nyangweso brought in the returning Makwatta for Baron Oketch as the only change.
Makwatta proved that he was missed in the first leg by providing the assist for the goal, a well weighted through pass that split through the Al Hilal defense to find Onyango who took one touch into the box and the second was a fiery shot into the bottom right.
AL Hilal had a chance in the 40th minute but Ahmed Amhimmid’s shot given space and time at the edge of the box was weak and it trickled wide.
On the opposite end, Evans Amwoka also came close after being put through by John Kago but his attempt at lifting the ball over the lanky Hilal keeper was futile.
At the stroke of half time, Alamshi had a chance after sneaking in behind the defense to connect a diving header from a corner, but luckily for the flat footed Ulinzi defense the ball went wide.
The hosts pumped pressure in the second half with Makwatta having two well taken shots go wide, but their drive was always punctured by the Al Hilal players who went down at every single opportunity.
Ulinzi would have sealed the match with three minutes left after Makwatta broke through into the box on the right, but he couldn’t decide whether to shoot or pass from a nearly tight angle, the keeper managing to collect.
Ulinzi will now face Smouha Sporting Club in the first round with the opening leg set for the weekend of March 10 with the return leg set for a fortnight.