Limping Leopards vow to maul Sharks
AFC Leopards coach Robert Matano has no doubt about his charges lifting the GOtv- Shield on Friday, despite their poor run in the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) that has left them 10th on the log with only five matches to go.
They face KPL debutants Kariobangi Sharks at the Moi Sports Centre Kasarani .Sharks are in the Cup final for the first time, after seeing off another KPL side Sony Sugar in the semi finals.
Leopards, who have won the Cup nine times, have met Sharks three times this season, succumbing to two defeats and a draw.
First, it was Sharks that mauled the Leopards 2-0 at their first round KPL match at the Afraha Stadium Nakuru, before settling for a barren stalemate in the return leg in Machakos.
Early this year in a pre-season match, the 2016 National Super League (NSL) first runners up beat Ingwe3-2, hence on paper; the title is theirs to lose.
However, Matano has insisted the final will be a different reflection of their current league run.
“We have been playing below average football. The current team has not matched the name of the club but that is a discussion for another day. Right now we need to focus on the Shield final,”Matano said.“I don’t look(at the game) at it in two ways, we are going to win the trophy, we have to beat Sharks,” charged the seasoned coach.
Matano has however conceded Leopards will be facing a quality side that has quickly adapted to topflight football.
“We will leave nothing to chance, we know how good they are and it has been evident in the KPL matches. They are not in this final by fluke too, and we have equal chances,” added the former Ulinzi Stars coach.
Apart from their 1-0 win at home to Ulinzi on Tuesday, Leopards have endured a difficult period in KPL lately including twin 2-0 defeats to Posta Rangers and Sofapaka in Narok .
Their counterparts Sharks, despite enjoying a better record in the KPL, (currently seventh and six points above Leopards) are under no illusion Leopards will offer a different challenge in the final.
Their warm up against Gor Mahia before Friday’s final was appalling, soaking in three goals. William Muluya, the Sharks coach, had rotated his squad excluding his most prolific scorer this season, Masoud Juma, from the first team, alongside influential players Elly Asieche, Ibrahim Kitawi and Calvin Odongo.
Muluya, keen to bag the first major silverware at the club formed 17 years ago in the Kariobangi slums, Nairobi, is however expected to parade his best arsenal against the wounded cats.
“I was not preserving anybody for the final, because I believe all players have a place in the team. We had to rotate the squad to bring in fresh legs, but it’s common knowledge you want your best players available for a final,” said the soft spoken coach after the defeat to Gor.
His captain Geoffrey Lemu has asked their fans to turn out in large numbers to rally behind them, knowing the strength of their opponents fan base .
“We have an opportunity to get our names and that of the club in the history of Kenyan football as one of the Shield winners, and we must do everything possible to end what has been a wonderful season well.
“I will be proud to be the first captain to lift a major trophy here,” Lemu who is clocking his tenth year at the club, said.
Muluya will be out to improve on the semi final exit he guided the Sharks to in 2016. A trophy will guarantee his charges a place in the 2018 Confederations Cup.
The winner take home Sh 2 million with the loser getting half the amount.The final will be preceded by a third place playoff between Vihiga United and Sony at the same venue.
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