Baraza toasts to his players after KPL Great Escape
Sofapaka FC gave the climax of the 2016 Kenyan Premier League (KPL) the most spectacular highlight by not only escaping relegation but scoring the highest number of goals in the eight final day fixtures.
Fittingly, it was their former captain John Baraza who was the architect of the Great Escape having led the 2009 champions to win three of their final four games he was fully in charge since taking over from Harambee Starlets head coach David Ouma.
Sofapaka ran riot crushing nine-man Thika United 5-1 to secure survival on goal difference after Batoto ba Mungu closed the campaign level with Ushuru FC who went under after a 3-1 defeat to Posta Rangers on 26 points.
Speaking to Citizen Digital, Baraza said he was worried the worst could have happened considering survival was not entirely in his hands since Ushuru only needed a draw to survive before their second half implosion at Safaricom Stadium in Kasarani.
“I did nothing special, but there was a lot of talk on building self belief which the players appreciated. We had a strong mentality in our last matches, and the team was really determined to give their best.
“I thank God we finally made it. I think I would have been the worst hit had it gone otherwise, Sofapaka is home for me,” the former captain and leading goal scorer charged.
Baraza insisted the five goals should not be a surprise to anyone, saying they could have scored even more.
“They (Thika) were playing very open football, which gave us more chances to attack. We also beat Nairobi City Stars with such a margin before.
“We wanted to do everything on our side and pray Posta Rangers do their part too, which they did,” Baraza underscored.
Always the consummate professional, Baraza hang his boots last season at the ripe old age of 39 before joining Ouma in the Sofapaka dugout as assistant coach.
With the once glamour club falling to lean times, Baraza was the calming influence to his side as his players went without pay besides the increasing engagement of Ouma with Starlets after his boss qualified them for the 2016 Africa Women Cup of Nations in Cameroon.
The twice winner of the KPL Golden Boot and Player of the Year, Baraza was in the Harambee Stars squad that appeared at their last Africa Cup of Nations appearance in 2004 in Tunisia.
Newly crowned champions Tusker FC wrapped up their domestic double winning campaign in style when Allan Wanga nicked the winner in their 1-0 victory over dethroned titleholders Gor Mahia at the Nyayo Stadium.
Gor’s Coach Jose ‘Ze Maria’ Ferreira had vowed to beat the Brewers but the Ruaraka based side proved their KPL and GOtv Shield victories were no flash in the pan as they signed off with 61 points, seven clear of their closest rivals who let go of the league crown for the first time in three seasons.
For the first time, Ze Maria started goalkeeper Sammy Okinda between the posts, resting Harambee Stars custodian Boniface Oluoch and veteran captain Jerim Onyango.
In Nakuru, John Mark Makwatta grabbed brace that took his tally to 15 goals as he won the race for the Golden Boot as Ulinzi Stars crushed Bandari 4-2.
The win lifted the Soldiers (46) to finish third on the table as they leapfrogged Chemelil Sugar FC (45) who could only muster a 1-1 stalemate with Mathare United (44) who dropped to fifth and seventh on the final standings.
Rangers (45) rose to fourth after condemning the Taxmen to the second tier, their highest ever KPL finish to cap a resounding return to the top flight after being promoted last season three years after they went down.
Western Stima (44) and Kakamega Homeboyz (42) played out a barren stalemate to finish sixth and eighth in that order to wrap the sides that will feature in the 2017 KPL Top 8 Knockout Tournament.
This year’s winners of the Ksh1m competition Muhoroni Youth (38) were already out of the running for the next edition but ended the campaign with a 2-1 victory over struggling giants AFC Leopards (30) in Mumias.
Defeat left new Ingwe English boss Stewart Hall without a win in his two games in charge with the 12-time league champions finishing in the depths of 13th place, four points above the drop zone.
There was no final hooray for already relegated Nairobi City Stars (19) who went down 2-1 to Sony Sugar (39) who recovered from the threat of the chop in the early season to wrap their campaign in ninth.
Leopards, Bandari, Sofapaka and Ushuru all played in the 2016 Top 8 tournament before wretched seasons saw them fall from the top half and for the Taxmen, a bitter return to the National Super League after earning promotion in 2013.
For Citizen TV updates
Join @citizentvke Telegram channel
Video Of The Day: Former sports CS Hassan Wario convicted over Rio games scam