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Zapata cautious in Singida United approach

AFC Leopards head coach Radolfo Zapata reacts during a past Kenyan Premier League match. PHOTO/Raymond Makhaya

NAKURU, Kenya, Jun 5- Last year’s Super Cup losing finalists AFC Leopards will be eager to start their campaign this year with a bang and progress all the way up for a consecutive time when they take on Tanzanian side Singida United in the last quarter final on Tuesday at Nakuru’s Afraha Stadium.

AFC tactician Rodolfo Zapata is confident that the team has the ability to move all the way to the final and has called on his charges to give their all against Singida and inch closer to their target.

“There is no pressure at all. This is a party that we need to enjoy. We are Leopards, the biggest team in this country and we need to go in to the pitch and represent our supporters well,’ the Argentine tactician said.

AFC are facing a Singida side which did not perform as well as they should have expected in the recently concluded season, finishing fifth in the standings with 44 points, a massive 25 behind champions Simba SC.

They have won only two of their last 10 matches, losing four and drawing a similar number. Both their wins were against Njombe Mji and Maji Maji who were both relegated after finishing in the bottom two slots.

Despite the poor record, Rodolfo is not taking the match lightly.

AFC Leopards striker Marvin Omondi leads team-mates in celebration during a past Kenyan Premier League match. PHOTO/Raymond Makhaya

“This is an international competition and it’s different from the league. I expect them to come very tough because of the prize that is there at the end of the day. For us, we have prepared very well and I am happy that the players have responded to my coaching,” the tactician said.

“Since I took over the team we are unbeaten and we need to keep working in this way. This is a good opportunity to show our skills and what we can do,” added the tactician who took charge of the team at the beginning of last month.

At the same time, Zapata has rued the absence of skipper Duncan Otieno who is away with the national team at the four-nation Heroes InterContinental Cup in India while Ezekiel Odera has been rued out with illness.

“It is sad to miss the two because they are very important players for us especially Duncan with the leadership he brings to the team. We are a small team with young players and when such key figures miss, it is sad. But it is no excuse, we will go there and do our best,” Zapata affirmed.

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AFC come into the tie fresh from a 2-1 win over Shabana in the Football Kenya Federation (FKF) Shield in Kisumu and the argentine coach hopes the team can maintain the winning streak against the Tanzanians and edge closer to the final.

Zanzibar head coach Suleiman Hemed Morocco applauds before a previous CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup match. PHOTO/Timothy Olobulu

Meanwhile, Singida will be coming into the tie under the tutelage of former Zanzibar national team coach Suleiman Hemed who comes back to the country after considerable success at the CECAFA Senior Challenge Cup last year leading the islanders to the final.

Hemed, nicknamed Morocco takes over from Dutchman Hans van der Pluijm who ditched Singida for moneybags Azam FC at the end of the season. This will be his first game in charge.

“I just took charge of the team three days ago when I signed the contract. My first training session with them has been here in Kenya and so I can’t say much about the team. Also, I don’t know much about Leopards so that makes this a very hard game for us,” Hemed told Capital Sport.

Also, among the familiar faces that will be on Singida’s line up will be Shafik Batambuze, a former Tusker FC title winning player. His last meeting with AFC was in Tusker’s penultimate game of the 2016 season where he scored the lone goal that handed the brewers the title.

The winner of this tie will face Gor Mahia in Thursday evening’s semi-final.

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