Will Ulinzi Stars and Tusker finally overcome the poor form showcased by Kenyan clubs in recent years in the continental competitions?
For both teams it has rarely been a happy occasion – Tusker were knocked out of the Caf Champions League after a 4-1 aggregate loss to Egyptian giants Al Ahly last time they featured in 2013, while Ulinzi are in the Caf Confederation Cup for the first time.
Save for Gor Mahia, winners of the Nelson Mandela Cup in 1987, no other Kenyan club has tasted continental glory. Tusker, then known as Kenya Breweries, were finalists in the 1994 Caf Winners’ Cup but lost to Democratic Republic of Congo’s DC Motema Pembe.
From then, Kenyan clubs have flattered to deceive on the continental scene.
Aware of the weight of history against them, veteran Ulinzi Stars defender Geoffrey “Koki” Kokoyo has issued a rallying call to Kenyans to turn up in large numbers at the Safaricom Stadium, Kasarani on Saturday to cheer the soldiers as they take on Libyan side Al Hilal Benghazi from 3pm.
Ulinzi and Al Hilal Benghazi have only met once in Caf Confederation Cup history – last weekend in the opening leg which ended 1-0 in favour of the Libyans.
This will be the return match and the soldiers know they must win by a two-goal margin to overturn the 1-0 loss from the first leg played in Egypt on Friday last week to progress.
“We are confident we shall win. We saw them (Al Hilal) in the first leg match and we know that they have weaknesses in terms of physical fitness,” Kokoyo said on Friday.
“Their physical levels dropped in the second half but defeated us because they capitalised on one mistake.”
“That is why we are sure that if we don’t commit any mistakes on Saturday, we can overcome them here at home.”
The former Ulinzi skipper will be at the heart of the defence alongside Brian Birgen, Omar Mbongi and Hassan Mohammed.
Ulinzi have been handed a major boost as last season’s Golden Boot winner John Makwatta has been cleared to feature in the match after missing out on the first leg due to paperwork issues.
On Sunday, Kenyan champions Tusker will be at the New George V Stadium in Curepipe in Mauritius to face AS Port Louis in the return match of their Caf Champions League.
The Mauritians carry a precious away goal advantage heading into this game, and the brewers need a two-goal draw or a win to stay alive in the competition.
The Tusker contingent left the country on Friday afternoon for the island nation brimming with confidence that they will return victorious even though key players Eugene Asike and Danson Kago had to remain behind due to late registration and injury respectively.
“You never know what can happen there. We haven’t given up yet. We are approaching the game with a winning mentality and I know that it is possible to beat them at their home ground,” Tusker coach George “Best” Nsimbe said.