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Mbao SportPesa Cup Goal Keeping Hero Mnata Hails Defensive Display

DAR ES SAALAM, Tanzania- Mbao FC goalkeeper Metacha Mnata hailed his team's defensive solidity for helping him clinch the Golden Glove Award in the just concluded 2019 SportPesa Cup in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania.

The tournament giant-killers earned plaudits for their deep run in the tournament where they blunted the might of two-time champions, Gor Mahia FC to stun them 4-3 on post-match penalties following a 1-1 result in normal time in the only goal Mnata conceded in open play during the week-long eight team regional knockout tournament.

Mbao went on to lose hard-fought games on penalties in the semis against eventual champions, Kariobangi Sharks FC of Kenya, 5-6 on Friday after a barren result in regulation time before the plucky outfit from Mwanza withstood a barrage of attacks from Tanzania Premier League (TPL) champions, Simba SC to share another barren stalemate on Sunday before they were outscored 3-5 in the ensuing shootout.

Mbao FC  players celebrating a goal at the just concluded 2019 SportPesa Cup in Tanzania

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In all the three games, Mnata's outstanding command of his penalty box coupled with the dogged resistance from his rearguard in the team led by head coach Ali Bushiri gave East Africa and beyond a masterclass in the often underrated art of defending.

Theirs was not the cliched 'park the bus' but a clinic on tactical discipline that made them difficult to break down and dangerous on the break, with only the lack of a potent forward holding them back from going all the way to become surprise winners of the USD30,000 tournament where the champions earn the right to host English Premier League champion as the ultimate prize.

On Sunday after another emphatic shift between the sticks, Mnata also received the USD500 man-of-the-match award presented to him by visiting international guest and Everton ambassador, Steven Pienaar, who was in Dar to witness the climax of the tournament on Friday and Sunday.

Coming to the show as rank minnows, Mbao left the tournament as one of the most talked about teams as football fans across the region and beyond engaged on social media using the official tournament hashtag, #SportPesaCup.

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“I'm very humbled to be recognised for my efforts in this tournament. I’m grateful to my teammates and coaches for giving me this opportunity. The awards I have won today (Sunday) are dedicated to my entire team for the brave fight we put up during the entire week. We are now even more prepared for the league having learnt a lot from the competition,” Mnata charged after becoming one of the individual stars of the third edition of the eight-team invitational showpiece that brings four teams each from Kenya and Tanzania.

Mnata reserves the biggest memory of their sensational victory over 2017 and 18 winners, Gor who arrived in Tanzania as the biggest scalp of them all, derailing their bid to complete a tournament hat-trick on Wednesday (January 23).

Mbao had to do it the hard way, fighting back from going 0-1 down to Kenya record international goal scorer, Dennis Oliech who put his side to the lead in the latter part of the second half from the spot, the only goal Mnata conceded from open play in the three games he featured.

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Abubakari Ngalema tucked in a smart low finish with 15 minutes to go to force the shootout where Gor surrendered the advantage to tumble out of the tournament when their captain, Harun Shakava and fellow defender Shafiq Batambuze missed twice in quick succession.

“The match against Gor was challenging but because we kept calm and focused on our plan before we managed to come out victorious,” Mnata who saved brilliantly from Oliech and Uganda striker Erisa Sekisambu to keep his team in the game in his first roaring performance of the 2019 SP Cup recounted.

Against Sharks in Friday's semis, Mnata followed up his Gor heroics with another commanding display between the sticks before giving his teammates a platform to make the final when he saved the first spot kick from Kenya international, Patillah Omotto.

However, Sharks held on to extend the shootout to sudden death but it was not to be as two missed penalties cost Mbao a chance to complete their SP Cup fairytale debut by appearing in the final at the first time of asking.

READ ALSO: Simba, Mbao Seek Cheerful End To 2019 SportPesa Cup Charge

“Penalties are tricky for any keeper but the key is to remain focused, pick a side and commit to the save. That’s what I did and it’s unfortunate that I couldn’t do more to help us into the finals,” Mnata rued.

Another stoic defensive clinic blunted the might of Dar giants Simba in the bronze medal match on Sunday where yet again, Mbao fell just short to take home USD5,000 in prize money for finishing fourth.

The keeper stressed his team would now turn attention towards seeking a high finish in the TPL where they lie fifth, level on points with Simba who nonetheless, have a handful of games at hand due to their CAF Champions League exertions.

“We have picked the positives and are prepared to turn our focus to the league. The tournament has taught us a lot and we have now made a stern warning to every team. They should watch out for us,” Mnata offered.

READ ALSO: Muluya, Mwalala Battle To Crown Gripping SportPesa Cup Climax

His team will be bouyed by becoming a household name in East Africa and beyond after playing a starring role in the competition that was beamed to a pan-African audience, the ample stage for the strong-willed side from Mwanza to showcase their abilities under Bushiri.

As the dust settles down to a thrilling tournament, few doubt they have heard the last of Mnata and his Mbao teammates with the possibility of big clubs seeking the signature of the Golden Glove winner.

Kariobangi Sharks FC players lift the 2019 SportPesa Cup trophy following their 1-0 victory over fellow SPL side Bandari FC at the National MainStadium, Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania on January 27, 2019. PHOTO/SPN

Mnata succeeded Fredrick Onyango (2017) and Philemon Otieno (2018) of Gor in emerging the best keeper of the tournament.

Losing finalists, Bandari FC who fell 0-1 to compatriots Sharks produced the 2019 SP Cup Most Valuable Player, meaning for the first time in history of the competition, the champions left without any of their men receiving overall individual tournament honours.

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Harrison Mwendwa who settled the keenly contested final at the National Main Stadium in Dar by scoring the winner, was however, named the man-of-the-match in the semis and decider, pocketing USD1000 in the process.

The 2019 SP Cup Golden Boot was shared between Sharks teammate, Duke Abuya, Wadri and Amisi Tambwe of Yanga SC who netted two goals apiece, succeeding tournament record scorer Meddie Kagere of Simba who collected the prize in 2017 and 18 in the colours of Gor with three and four strikes in that order.

READ ALSO: Sharks, Bandari Promise Cracking SportPesa Cup Final