NAKURU, Kenya- As the tense penalty shootout between Tanzanian giants, Simba SC and plucky Kenyan first timer, Kakamega Homeboyz FC unfolded, one player lay prostate at the centre circle, unable to watch the drama.
Kenyan international and Kakamega Homeboyz FC star striker, Allan Wanga had expertly dispatched the first spot-kick in off the underside of the bar to give his side the lead before he went back and lay flat on his belly.
He knew he had played his part but could not stomach watching his teammates keep his SportPesa Super Cup dreams going in the tension-filled post-match penalties after the teams sweat to a 0-0 draw at the end of regulation.
Watching everything from the VIP stand of Afraha Stadium, Nakuru was Yakubu Aiyegbeni, the retired Nigeria Super Eagles captain and Everton FC striker, the two men brought together on Kenyan soil by fate.
Such was the desire of Wanga to help his side bag the regional invitational tournament crown and earn his second trip to play in England that the veteran gave his all as Homeboyz made their debut in the USD30,000 (KSh3m) winners’ prize money competition.
On Monday, he was the undisputed man of the match after his brace helped the Kenyan side knockout Dar giants, Yanga SC 3-1 in their quarterfinal but on Thursday he was well shackled by the SImba rearguard and in the end they agonisingly fell one missed penalty short of stunning their bitter cross town rivals, Simba SC.
Last year, Wanga was part of the SportPesa All Stars team that travelled to England to play Hull City FC Select Side at the KCOM Stadium and he had made no secret of his desire to lead his new side to Goodison Park, where Aiyegbeni made his name as an Everton player from 2007 to 2011.
“Our minds aren’t on Everton now. We still have a lot to do before we get to that but all in all that will be a great accomplishment for me as a player and as Homeboyz as we make our debut in our first tournament of this calibre,” the two-time domestic league winner (2007 and 2016) with Tusker FC said after his brace powered Homeboyz to the last four on Monday.
“It would have quite a story had Homeboyz knocked out both Dar giants from the Super Cup on their debut,” remarked SportPesa Head of Marketing, Kelvin Twissa, who was among the dignitaries watching the first semi final at Afraha.
Sometimes, to quote immediate former Arsenal FC manager, Arsene Wenger, “Football fairytales do not always have a happy ending,” and for Homeboyz and their head coach, Paul Nkata, that rang so true after leaving the tournament unbeaten but out on the wrong end of the post-match penalties lottery.
“The game wasn’t played according to plan and it’s sad that we crashed out on penalties. The opponents were more confident than us and that cost us in the game.
“Football is a lesson in itself and there a couple of things that we have to change as we prepare for the third and fourth play-off,” Ugandan Nkata rued.
On the other end of the scale, Simba SC players raced to the pitch to form a heap on midfielder Jonas Mkude when his assured spot-kick sent Simba through after Homeboyz second half substitute, Wycliffe Opondo, saw his effort go skywards with scores level at 4-4.
“The match was hard. We thank God that He helped us qualify for the finals. We promised our fans we would improve and everyone was committed today, and you can see they are happy and so are we.
“It’s all God today and for that we are grateful, we go back to the drawing board as we await the final on Sunday,” Masoud Djuma who led them out on Thursday offered as their post-season party after clinching their 19th Tanzanian league title in their just concluded domestic season rolled on.
It was quite a sight to behold as the handful of vocal Simba fans who had travelled from Tanzania and made a meaningful din were drowned out by supporters of Kenya’s most followed club, Gor Mahia FC who were waiting for their semi against Singida United FC to start after the match.
However, in the true hallmark of champions, the Simba penalty takers held their nerve despite the loud howling and cat-calls from the locals and with eight of the first 10 kicks converted, the Wekundu wa Msimbazi (Msimbazi Reds) picked up the pieces when brave Homeboyz finally cracked.
With that, the hopes Wanga had for one last foreign foray dissipated at the Afraha turf but there was no shame for the striker who shared the same stage with Aiyegbeni on November 14, 2009 during a 2010 World Cup/Nations Cup qualifier in Nairobi.
On that occasion, both men scored, Wanga to bring the game to 2-2 after Aiyegbeni had put the Super Eagles 1-2 up midway through the second half. A late Obafemi Martins striker and his brace finally sunk Kenya 2-3, ending Stars hopes of featuring at the Angola 2010 AFCON finals.
The coincidence of it all was there for all to see at a tournament that brought the two men to the same stadium after nine years.
For Simba though, the dream of earning the ticket to fly to England and collect the USD30,000 (KSh3m) remains real ahead of Sunday’s decider but it is not all over to Homeboyz who will return on the same day to face the loser of the second semi.
At stake for them is USD7500 (KSh750,000) for third place or USD5,000 (KSh500,000) that will not reflect on a bad debut Super Cup outing after all.