MACHAKOS, Kenya, Mar 18 – A Samwel Onyango brace and an Omar Mbongi deflected freekick was not enough as 10-man Ulinzi Stars bowed out of the CAF Confederations Cup 4-3 on aggregate despite beating Egyptian side Smouha 3-0 at the Kenyatta Stadium in Machakos on Saturday evening.
The soldiers were reduced to 10 men early in the second half after midfielder John Kago got his marching orders with two yellow cards within a bracket of seven minutes, and the numerical disadvantage could have worked against them.
Ulinzi needed a 4-0 win to force the game to penalties and a 5-0 outright win to advance coming off a 4-0 loss in the first leg played in Alexandria a fortnight ago, but they came just one shy off the minimum target in a match which they played like wounded lions.
“I am proud of the players, we put in a good fight, corrected the mistakes from the first leg and it is only unfortunate that it wasn’t enough,” Ulinzi Stars head coach Benjamin Nyangweso said after the match.
His opposite number Moanen Soliman was full of praise for the military side and said his players were affected by the altitude.
“Ulinzi is a good side and they played like men. They attacked from the word go but for us we did not play well. We didn’t win the second balls and that is where we lost the game. Also, my players couldn’t run because of less oxygen because this is a high altitude area,” he said.
Within the first 10 minutes, Ulinzi were already on the score sheet through Onyango and in the 37th minute the former Sony Sugar striker completed his brace.
Mbongi restored some hope with 15 minutes left, but despite pressure in the final minutes they could not get the important goal to complete the comeback.
Within the first 10 minutes, Ulinzi were already on the score sheet through Onyango. The striker raced behind the defense to meet Daniel Waweru’s superb ball from midfield sliding in to beat the keeper and open the scores.
Onyango had made amends after being selfish just five minutes earlier when he opted to shoot in a crowded area other than play the ball to his team mate Evans Amwoka who was in a better scoring position.
The soldiers had begun the match with pace, Nyangweso’s tact of employing a double pivot of defensive midfielders infront of the back four minimizing spaces for Smouha to run.
In the 16th minute Ulinzi came close to a second when Waweru’s grass cutter flew across the face of goal, Onyango missing the connection by inches. Ulinzi kept pounding and Smouha were forced to play on the back foot most of the time.
The hosts doubled the tally and added more hope on their unthinkable comeback, Onyango completing his brace after intercepting a pass from a Smouha defender back to his keeper and punishing the mistake.
Ulinzi would have gone to the break 3-0 up but Amwoka’s toe poke from an Onyango assist went agonizingly wide.
In the second half Smouha started with a change in personnel, Hossam Hassan and Ahmed Ali coming in for Ahmed Hamed and Ahmed Adam respectively as the coach sought to cure the imbalance in midfield.
But Ulinzi kept the fight going and they were dangerous especially on the cross balls always trying to dump the ball behind the Smouha defense and using the pace of Amwoka and Onyango.
The surge paid off with 18 minutes left when Mbongi’s deflected freekick from 20 yards out beat the Smouha keeper.
The goal gave Ulinzi hope as they needed just one more to force the game to penalties and they kept the momentum on the high, looking for that single ball behind the net.
Geoffrey Kokoyo’s bouncing header from a Waweru corner went straight to the keeper as the pressure grew. Substitute Oscar Wamalwa who was introduced five minutes to time also saw a header fly over.
Smouha managed to defend well and the relief on their faces was evident after the referee blew the final whistle.