Spot-on Ulinzi through to CAF Confed Cup first round
Ulinzi Stars kept the cooler heads to progress to the CAF Confederation Cup first round after a nervy 5-4 victory over Al Hilal of Libya on post-match penalties in Nairobi on Saturday after their preliminary clash ended 1-1 on aggregate.
Samuel Onyango struck early in the second leg encounter at the Safaricom Stadium in Kasarani to cancel out Al Hilal 1-0 advantage from the reverse fixture in neutral Cairo a week earlier and the game was forced to the full distance when neither side could fashion a winner.
In the shoot-out, Onyango, Mark Makwatta, Omar Mbongi and substitutes; Oscar Wamalwa and Baron Oketch converted before Ulinzi keeper James Saruni saved from Abdalla Ashaffi and Esam Alamshi hit the woodwork as the Kenyans squeezed through.
The opening 10 minutes were riddled with misplaced passes as both sides struggled to find early rhythm but Ulinzi found the next gear as they pressed to overturn their opening leg deficit.
Ulinzi looked much more potent up-front with Makwatta back in the side and it was the Kenyan Premier League (KPL) top scorer that laid an exquisite through ball to Onyango to tuck in the opener after finding space behind the Al Hilal rear guard.
Makwatta’s defense-splitting pass in the 17th minute proved to be the decisive moment as Onyango took the ball in his stride outside the box before racing into the danger area and drilling a low drive past keeper Murad Alwuheesh.
Spurred by the goal, Ulinzi went in search for a second as they bossed the first half only to be denied by wayward finishing.
Al Hilal barely threatened with their first meaningful chance coming in the dying minutes of the opening stanza when Saed Alwjali flashed a header across goal from a corner kick.
The Libyans returned from the break with more aggression with winger Ahmed Amhimmid proving to be a menace for Ulinzi defenders with his searing pace.
Amhimmid thought he had made it 1-1 after turning in Ali Maetoua’s free-kick but his effort was ruled out for offside.
Neither side could fashion a breakthrough and the game had to be decided by the lottery of penalties and Ulinzi found the composure to progress to the first round where they will face Egyptian side Smouha SC who got a bye from the first phase of the second tier continental competition.
Playing in only their second continental campaign, Ulinzi avoided an embarrassing exit at the first hurdle after being thrashed 5-0 on aggregate by Egyptian titans Zamalek in the 2011 CAF Champions League preliminary round when they came in to the competition as the 2010 KPL winners.
-Report by Mwangi Githinji and Matthews Mutai
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