DAR-ES-SAALAM, Tanzania- AFC Leopards became the first team from Kenya to land in Tanzania on Saturday morning ready to chase for a first SportPesa Cup crown at the third edition of the tournament in Dar-es-Salaam.
The 2017 losing finalists, who crashed out in the quarters last year, arrived in the Tanzanian capital ready for another tilt of the biggest prize at the eight-team invitational regional showdown that kicks off on Tuesday at the National Main Stadium.
Led by head coach Marko Vesiljevik, the Kenyan giants who have fallen into lean times since winning the 2017 domestic cup were in high spirits and gleaming confidence ahead of their titanic quarterfinal against home titans Simba SC on Wednesday.
“This competition is great for the club and the players to show the continent what they are made of. We’re coming off an important league win and we still have a couple of days to train in Tanzania. I’m confident we will put on a great show,” Vesiljevik told SportPesa News.
AFC Leopards are up against Simba who fell short of glory at the final hurdle to two-time winners Gor Mahia FC who outclassed them 2-0 in Nakuru last year in what is the biggest tie of the quarters.
Simba will be seeking to avenge their 4-5 defeat on penalties to Leopards when the two sides met at the neighbouring Uhuru Stadium in the inaugural 2017 Super Cup.
As fate would have it, Leopards paid the penalty a year later and were knocked out on spot kicks by another Tanzanian side, Singida United FC at the Afraha Stadium.
“Last time it was painful to be knocked out on penalties but that’s how football is. We learnt from our mistakes and we are ready to do better if it gets to that,” AFC Leopards captain Robinson Kamura who was part of the losing side said.
“We are confident and with the talent in the squad, as long as we play as a unit then it won’t have to get to penalties,” he added.
Kamura was handed the armband at the beginning of the season following the departure of Duncan Otieno, who left to seek greener pastures in Zambia.
Leopards are seventh on the KPL table with 10 points as they continue their quest to win a first domestic league title in 21 years.
“All our focus is now on the SportPesa Cup. We have seen what our rivals Gor have achieved in the tournament and we are ready to show that we can do it too,” Leopards winger Eugene Mukangula weighed in upon touchdown at the Julius Nyerere International Airport.
“We know that it’s going to be a tough tournament and we are aware of the threat all the teams pose, though that will only push us to do better.
“Our fans and even the team needs a good performance and that is what we are ready to give,” left back Moses Mburu added.
Leopards travelled without dependable midfielder Victor Majid who sustained a knee injury while on league duty in the only blow to their line up.
The 12-time league winners emphasised their mission on winning the tournament so that they get to host nine-time English champions Everton FC later in the year, on top of the hefty Sh 3mn (USD30,000).