The Five Unforgettable Moments Of 2019 SportPesa Cup
NAIROBI, Kenya- As the dust settles, the 2019 SportPesa Cup rates as the best edition of the regional eight-team invitational football showpiece organized so far.
A week of gripping football action climaxed last Sunday (January 27) when Kariobangi Sharks FC became the second team to lift the coveted trophy when they silenced SportPesa Premier League rivals Bandari FC 1-0 at the National Main Stadium in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania.
In so doing, the team that is rooted in the sprawling low-income residential estate in northeastern Nairobi, Kenya returned home having earned recognition across East Africa and beyond for their SP Cup heroics.
Sharks did not only pocket USD30,000 in top prize money but the team that was rebooted into its current status in 2000 earned the cherished opportunity of hosting English Premier League side, Everton FC later this year.
Ahead of the tournament, no one gave Sharks- who were playing in their second SP Cup following their quarterfinal exit last year- or beaten finalists and debutants Bandari a shout but in the end, the young vibrant team under a 32-year-old coach in William Muluya proved to be the prettiest of them all.
East Africa giants, two-time champions Gor Mahia FC and AFC Leopards SC from Kenya as well as bitter Dar rivals, Simba SC and Yanga SC lined up for the tournament alongside rank outsiders, first timers Mbao FC and Singida United FC both of Tanzania.
So as the memories from what was a week of breathtaking football played in roasting conditions in the Tanzanian coastal commercial city, SportPesa News, presents its top five highlights of the third edition of the SP Cup.
1. The passion of Tanzania football fans
The allure of football is its supporters and in Dar, the game has almost fanatical following with discussion from the streets to markets, social joints and any other gathering dominated by recent happenings in the game.
Held in a working week, the 60,000-seater National Stadium was a big attraction for the eight SP Cup games with organisers Tanzania Football Federation in conjunction with facilitators and gaming titans, SportPesa levying a nominal charge of TSh2000 (around KSh100) entry for terrace and TSh5000 (KSh500) for VIP.
Sizeable crowds turned up, more so when Dar giants Simba and Yanga were in action as a city dreamed of the dream eternal derby that sells out the National Stadium in minutes.
However, it was not to be. Sharks toppled Yanga in the quarters 3-2 in a five-goal thriller before Simba were pick-pocketed by Bandari who came from behind to win 2-1 in in the semis.
Despite the disappointment of watching a second SP Cup in Dar without a home victory as their Kenyan rivals wounded the pride yet again, Tanzanians football fans continued to flock to the stadium and in giant-killers Mbao who dethroned their shared enemy, Gor, they had a home team to rally behind as neutrals.
These video courtesy of www.capitalfm.co.ke best illustrates how passions run deep whenever their teams lose a football game.
2. Sven Yidah viral dance
Sharks midfielder, Yidah swept the Internet by storm last Friday when his celebration after turning in a penalty in a tense 6-5 victory over Mbao went viral, catapulting him to instance fame with perhaps the most enduring moment of the 2019 SP Cup.
That he broke out into his robotic jig with his team trailing in the shootout after Kenya international, Patillah Omotto, had missed the first only added to the absurdity of his act.
After beating Mbao keeper and tournament Golden Glove winner Metacha Mnata, Yidah turned and said a short player as he headed back to the centre circle before breaking the Internet.
3. Oliech returns to Tanzania with a bang
When Kenya record goal scorer unhinged his boot from the shelf to return to the game two years since he last kicked a football, Oliech sharply divided opinion as to whether he could once again shine on the big stage.
However, during the third quarterfinal of the tournament, Oliech faced Mnata from the spot after Gor were awarded a penalty and went on to beat the Mbao keeper for the only goal he conceded.
The former Harambee Stars captain, 34, was arguably the most committed K’Ogalo player, extending Mnata to one of the saves of the tournament as he sought to fire his side to the semis.
When head coach Hassan Oktay benched him with the game approaching its final quarter, Mbao players, relieved to see the back of the striker rallied to force a 1-1 stalemate.
Watching from the bench, Oliech could not help his side as his captain, Harun Shakava and Shafik Batambuze missed but by scoring on his SP Cup debut, the man known as Kajole had left his mark, one of the few Gor players who emerged with credit in a disastrous performance.
4. Peerless Kagere strikes again
As illustrated before the tournament, Uganda born Meddi Kagere took the SP Cup like fish to the water, banging in three in 2017 and four a year later.
His performance at the 2018 final at Afraha Stadium in Nakuru where he took only six minutes to ripple the Simba net before setting Jacques Tuyisenge for the winner in a 2-0 victory convinced the well-heeled Dar heavyweights open their cheque book.
However, Wekundu wa Msimbazi failed to fulfill their favourites role when they surrendered a 0-1 lead at half time to lost 1-2 to Bandari.
No one can however, deny the sheer quality of the opener, rifled in past Bandari keeper Farouk Shikhalo with such panache in the final moments of the first half.
After being frustrated by the Dockers, Kagere received a long ball and proceeded to give it a single touch before beating the Bandari keeper for his record extended eighth goal of the competition.
Just like Oktay before him, Simba coach Patrick Aussems withdrew Kagere at the start of the second half and the Kenyan side smelt blood and pounced.
5. Local coaches reign supreme
As is often the case, big clubs worldwide splash the cash towards the general direction of foreign tacticians with the hope of sustaining their dynasties.
Highly paid and experienced foreign coaches in the 2019 SP Cup, Hassan Oktay (Turkey/Gor Mahia FC), Marko Vesiljevic (AFC Leopards SC) and Dragan Popadic (Singida United FC) both from Serbia, Patrick Aussems (Belgium/Simba SC) and Mwinyi Zahera (DR Congo/Yanga SC) featured in this tournament, hoping to enhance their reputations further.
However, the 2019 SP Cup provided to be the grand stage for young and local trainers to test their might and at the end of it all, the big boys chocked in their slipstream.
The last four of the competition had Muluya leading his team to glory over compatriot and ex-Yanga star, Bernard Mwalala (34) in the final with tournament surprise package Mbao Tanzanian head coach Ali Bushiri also proving his credentials.
Already, reports of managerial unrest among the regional giants in the aftermath of the SP Cup are brewing and soon, any of the above trio could land a dream job.
Should it happen, they will always be grateful for the tournament that continues to grow in stature and prominence.