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Matano plots conquering Africa with AFC

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AFC Leopards head coach Robert Matano guided Ingwe to the GOtv Shield title for the first time in four years. Photo/ RAYMOND MAKHAYA

NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 21- After guiding AFC Leopards back to continental football, head coach Robert ‘The Lion’ Matano is now focusing on ensuring Ingwe makes history in 2018 CAF Confederations Cup.

AFC Leopards beat Kariobangi Sharks 2-0 on Friday to not only clinch the 2017 GOtv Shield title but also book a slot in next year’s CAF Confederations Cup.

Their last sojourn in continental football was in 2014 when they were eliminated at the first round after a loss to South Africa’s Supersport United. In history though, Ingwe were a force to reckon with in the continent especially in the 80’s and those are the glory days Matano wants to bring back.

“It is great to play in continental football because it is a different and prestigious stage. AFC is a big team and we need to get back to the top. After the season ends I will sit down, assess my squad and see what I need to add. After I have my squad intact, then I will know what the targets are,” the coach told Capital Sport.

But, in achieving his ambition, Matano has asked for a healthy budget from the club’s officials, saying playing at such a stage comes with a heavy cost.

AFC Leopards head coach Robert Matano speaking with his technical bench during the 2017 GOtv Shield final. Photo/RAYMOND MAKHAYA

“We need to have a good financial base to reinforce the squad with good quality players. We also need ample time to prepare,” the tactician further stated.

It was a sweet day for Matano who had the chance of winning the title with Ulinzi Stars last season, but lost in the final to Tusker. More painful to Matano was the fact that he had failed to coach the team three months prior as he was out with illness.

In a previous interview, he told Capital Sport that he would have won the title had he been with the team throughout. But now, he has achieved his target, his first piece of silverware since guiding Tusker FC to the Kenyan Premier League crown in 2012.

“The best thing about football life is winning, and it is a great feeling to win today. This was our biggest match of the year and I motivated my players throughout this week. I psyched them and told them they were responsible for everything,” Matano stated.

“They were playing for themselves, the team, the fans and their future and they delivered when we needed them to,” a happy Matano further added.

-Shittu contemplated quitting AFC-

AFC Leopards defender Salim ‘Shittu’ Abdalla celebrating after nodding home a powerful header to hand Ingwe the opener. Photo/RAYMOND MAKHAYA

The allure of playing in continental football is already appealing to the players who have vowed to put in their best feet forward to ensure they perform well in the African stage.

Defender Salim ‘Shittu’ Abdallah who scored the opening goal in the 2-0 win against Kariobangi Sharks disclosed that he had contemplated quitting the club at the end of the season, but now says he will remain to have a taste of playing CAF football.

“I had thought about leaving at the end of the season but now, I think I will change my mind. I have never played football outside Kenya and this is a great opportunity for me as a player. It is every player’s dream to get here and hopefully I will work hard to retain a place,” the tough tackling defender asserted.

Meanwhile, Leopards will turn their focus on finishing the league strongly in the remaining five games of the season, fuelled by the motivation of their GOtv Shield conquest.

They are placed 10th in the league standings with 36 points and Matano hopes they can push enough to move within the top eight bracket.

“It would be good if we win all the remaining five games of the season. We are motivated now and I know the players will work hard to get the team into our desired position,” the tactician opined.

Matano’s charges will have a week of rest and recuperation before their next league fixture against Chemelil Sugar on Saturday October 28 at the Thika Stadium.

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