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Ulinzi out to start on a high in Alexandria

Ulinzi Stars players at their team hotel in Alexandria, Egypt.PHOTO/Timothy Olobulu

NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 9 – Kenya’s representatives in the CAF Confederations Cup Ulinzi Stars on Wednesday trained at the Tolip Sports Centre in Alexandria, Egypt ahead of their first round opening leg tie against hosts Smouha.

The military side will have a feel of the match venue, the Borg El-Arab Stadium on Thursday evening.

Head coach Benjamin Nyangweso is breathing confidence that the side which eliminated Libya’s Al Hilal Benghazi on post match penalties in the preliminary round is in good shape to repeat the same feat against a stronger opponent.

“Egyptian teams are never easy to play against especially away. As a team we are prepared psychologically and physically to tackle them because it will not be a walk in the park,” Nyangweso told Capital Sport from Alexandria.

The soldiers will not come up against a mean opponent as Smouha who are placed fifth on the Egyptian Premier League table standings reached the group stages of the CAF Champions League in 2015.

Ulinzi Stars defender Mohammed Hassan in passes to a teammate during training at the Tolip Sports City in Alexandria on March 8, 2017.PHOTO/Timothy Olobulu

The Egyptians have only lost once in their last five matches while they are undefeated at home since October last year when they lost 2-1 to Al Masry in a league fixture.

Ulinzi though are not worried with the pedigree, saying they will tackle the Egyptians with as much energy.

“We want to do well in each match, go stage by stage and see how far we can go. Winning the preliminary round gave us so much belief and we are now more experienced and we know what we should do. Away ties are very crucial and we want to take tomorrow’s match like a final and pick a positive result,” skipper James Saruni noted.

The side will miss the services of striker John Mark Makwatta, their top scorer over the last two seasons.

He has resigned from military service as he pursues a fully professional career with FC Nitra in Slovakia. It is a massive blow for Ulinzi and Nyangweso has admitted as much.

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Ulinzi Stars players hurdle together in prayer before training at the Tolip Sports City in Alexandria on March 8, 2017.PHOTO/Timothy Olobulu

The responsibility will now be left on new boy Baron Oketch, signed on loan from Gor Mahia, Enosh Ochieng and Oscar Wamalwa to fill in the void.

“It is tough losing Makwatta because what he has done over the past three seasons is huge. We will do our best with the players we have. We will for sure not find a direct replacement for him but the players remaining now have to rise to the occasion,” Nyangweso added.

He will not make massive changes to his starting team from the one that played in the second leg against Al Hilal. Only two changes might be effected with Makwatta having left and Evans Amwoka entirely left out of the trip.

The match will be played on Friday night at 7pm Kenyan time.

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