NAIROBI, Kenya- AFC Leopards SC won a record-equalling 10th domestic cup title when they outclassed Kariobangi Sharks FC 2-0 on Saturday to lift the GOtv Shield title in a tactical masterclass.
Salim ‘Shittu’ Abdallah opened the scoring in the 18th minute before Vincent Oburu killed the contest with a sublime strike from the top drawer in the 81st to earn Leopards a ticket to next season’s CAF Confederations Cup, KSh2m in prize money and above all, restore the pride at the Den that has endured a nightmare season.
Leopards equalled the domestic cup success record with their eternal rivals, Gor Mahia FC who are sprinting to a 16th SportPesa Premier League (SPL) title in a campaign where their mashemeji (in-laws) risked losing their top flight status.
It was fitting reward for Ingwe head coach, Robert ‘The Lion’ Matano, who was brought into the team to prevent the 12-time league champions and domestic giants from sinking into the second division having missed the trophy last year when his Ulinzi Stars FC side lost to Tusker FC in the decider.
For Sharks and their head coach, William ‘Kanu’ Muluya, the defeat at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani was a bitter pill to swallow after Leopards gave them a harsh lesson in tactics by starving 2017 Shield top scorer, Masoud Juma, of service before hitting them twice when it hurt.
The Kariobangi-based side who finished third in the competition last season went home with the scant consolation of having made another step up the podium after their Shield title dreams were drowned in a match where the heavens opened with fury with 30 minutes to go.
Perhaps overawed by the sense of the historic occasion on the day the country celebrated Mashujaa (Heroes) Day, Sharks were up against it from the opening whistle as Leopards, who were seeking a first Shield title since 2013, raced off the blocks in the hunt for their prey.
Only four minutes had elapsed for Sharks to survive an early scare when Whyvonne Isuza put Raymond Omondi clean through on goal with only the exposed custodian, John Oyemba, to beat but to the horror of the Ingwe bench and supporters, the striker missed the target when he dithered on the ball, allowing Geoffrey Shiveka to hack clear.
Musa Mudde was next to spare the rattled Sharks when he skied the ball over with the net gaping when Oyemba made a harsh of clearing Isuza’s cross with a weak clearance in the eighth before Aziz Okaka (14′) passed up another opportunity to put Leopards ahead when he blazed wide with the opposing keeper beaten.
That proved to be short respite when four minutes later, Ingwe went ahead when Abdallah rose to emphatically head in a Duncan Otieno corner conceded when Sharks paid the heavy price of the carelessness of Sven Yidah who held on to the ball for far too long before being forced to put it to touch needlessly.
Juma then thought he had earned his side a penalty when he was brought down by the charging Gabriel Andika in the Leopards goal inside the box but the referee Peter Waweru turned down the appeal in one of the rare moments the lethal marksman ran loose of his man-marker Abdallah.
Andika, who went down injured after the collision, resumed play after some treatment as the sides went in for the break with Leopards 1-0 to the good.
To their credit, Sharks came from the breather pressing for the equaliser despite heavy rain pelting the pitch shortly after the hour mark, compelling Matano to start closing shop when he hooked off Omondi for Alexis Kitenge in the 70th.
That did little to stem the Sharks momentum and they were well on top of the contest before Oburu, the young promising forward, produced a real moment of quality to put the game beyond the SPL first-timers with a cracking goal that saw him mobbed by the Ingwe staff led by the ecstatic Matano.
There was further drama when an incredible 11 minutes were added on after the 90 but the deflated Sharks could not muster the comeback as Leopards players, staff and a handful of fans burst into frenzied celebrations when Waweru brought the contest to an end.
Matano and his men thus went into the annals of the club’s rich history, with victory all the sweeter after beating a team who are viewed to be the face of football establishment.
It was the third meeting of the season for the teams with the SPL encounters ending in victory for Sharks and a barren stalemate the last time they met.
Punching the air and racing to the corner where most of their faithful sat, Leopards players performed a celebratory jig before they went to lift their trophy as confetti blasted from the temporary stage set in the middle of the Kasarani pitch.