After flopping massively in the recently concluded SportPesa Super Cup, AFC Leopards aim to redeem themselves when they face Sofapaka today at Kenyatta Stadium Machakos.
Leopards exited the show at the hands of Tanzanian minnows Singida United in post-match penalties and will face a third rooted Sofapaka in a ‘war of cats.
Rodolfo Zapata charges were touted to challenge for the Everton trip but disappointed their fans with yet another dismal show thus failing to challenge fierce rivals Gor Mahia who rebooked a date with the Merseyside club. Today, Zapata faces a puzzle as his talisman Ezekiel Odera was confirmed unfit for the match due to illness while Isaac Odura and Vincent Oburu are out injured.
He will also miss the services of skipper Duncan Otieno and Michael Kibwage who were permitted to sit out after arriving late from India where they formed part of the national team squad which played in the the Hero International tournament.
According to the assistant coach Tom “Gaza” Juma the absence of the five senior players will hand the bench an opportunity to gauge the qualities of players who rarely get playing time. History leans on Sofapaka’s side and John Baraza is expected to rally his best in clawing for the three points which will catapult them to the second spot.
Defending champions Gor Mahia will begin to whittle their five matches in hand when they face debutants Wazito at Moi Stadium Kisumu. K’Ogalo have been unrivalled in the five matches they have played and remain perched top of the standings with 34 points—one ahead of second-placed Mathare United. They face a side with a depleted squad having cashed their prized stars Pistone Mutamba, Harun Nyakha and Joe Waithira, who joined Sofapaka and Nakumatt respectively. Wazito are placed second from bottom with 17 points.Meanwhile, after their title aspiration suffered a damaging blow following back-to-back losses against Tusker and Sofapaka, head coach Dunstan Nyaudo and his troops have now turned their attention to this afternoon’s clash against kakamega Homboyz at Afraha Stadium.
The soldiers shaped up for the match with a friendly match against National Super League (NSL) side St. Joseph’s FC. Enosh Ocheing scored for Ulinzi Stars in the Monday clash, which ended 1-1 and the coach, in reaction, noted that a return to winning ways is their main focus, as he seeks to banish the memories of the last two league outings.
“We have been trying a number of things as we look to get the team back to winning ways and I am seeing a lot of positivity. The two defeats are behind us and the boys are well focused. We had a number different formations in the friendly and I am happy with what I saw. We can’t give away much but I hope to see the same in the game on Wednesday. The most important thing is that we are eyeing a return to winning ways and everyone in the team is focused,” Nyaudo remarked on the club’s official portal said. The 3-0 loss at the hands of Tusker in the last game was Ulinzi’s biggest upset in recent years and midfielder Daniel Waweru has admitted they have to give it a good response today.
A similar loss to Sofapaka in 2013 was the last the team took such a beating in the Kenyan Premier League and Waweru has termed the massive loss a shame and hopes they can rise again and put their season back on track. The Tusker defeat came right at the back of a 1-2 loss to Sofapaka, prompting a team meeting to try and address a slump that has seen the team concede five goals in two games, scoring just once. “What happened at Tusker was shameful and we have to rise above that as soon as possible. We are eager to put our season back on track with this game because we are in the title race and can’t afford to let points slip away easily. World Under 18 champions Leonard Bett, Mercy Chepkurui, Mary Wambui and George Manangoi lead Kenya team of 27 athletes to the next month’s World Under 20 Championships in Tampere, Finland.
The team was unveiled yesterday following the conclusion of two-day trials at the Moi Stadium, Kasarani. Bett, Chepkurui (2,000m steeplechase), Wambui (800m) and Manangoi (1,500m) won their respective races during the World U-20 Champs and were also dominant in their specialties at Kasarani yesterday.
Others are silver medallists Edward Zakayo (5,000m), Naadokila Mpoke (400m/H), Mary Moraa (400m) and Lydia Jeruto (800m). Stanley Waithaka, who won bronze in 5,000m alongside Samson Ndigiti (10,000m Walk) and Ednah Jebitok (1,500m) also made the team that will represent the country at the global show.
World U-20 3,000m champion Celliphine Chepteek also grabbed a rare chance to defend the title she won in Bydgoszcz, Poland two years ago. Waithaka and Zakayo revealed how they worked as a team to book a ticket to Europe.
“We have known each other since the World U18 Champs and we believe we can work as a team in bringing home two of the three medals,” said Zakayo. “I had a slight injury soon after the Commonwealth Games, where I won a bronze medal and I am happy that Waithaka helped me make the team. He followed my requests and I can’t thank him enough.”
The athletes are expected to report to Riadha House on Sunday for further instructions as far as the training camp is concerned. Athletics Kenya president Jackson Tuwei, said the selected team has the capacity to better the country’s medal tally from 2016, where they won five gold, two silver and two bronze medals to finish second behind United States (11, 6, 4). “I want to request the coaches across the country to change tactics to conform with the modern championships,” said Tuwei. “We have very good athletes in some of the events but they missed out on the team due to lack of correct tactics.”
Head coach Robert Ngisirei said Tuwei’s directive will be observed as they seek to better performances from last edition.
“Things are changing drastically the world over and we must change our techniques too,” said Ngisirei. “Sometimes it is difficult to guide senior athletes, who strictly follow their managers’ instructions but we are glad the juniors are always eager to listen to us. My hope is that they will listen to us in training and during the championships.”
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