MACHAKOS, Kenya- Zanzibar Heroes maintained their perfect start to the 2017 Cecafa Senior Challenge Cup after beating rivals Tanzania 2-1 at the Kenyatta Stadium in Machakos on Thursday to move top of Group A with six points.
The Islanders, who beat Rwanda 3-1 last time out, found themselves trailing in the 29th minute when Himid Mao put Taifa Stars ahead.
However, super sub Kassim Suleiman restored parity in the 67th before tunring provider for Ibrahim Ahmada who claimed the winner in the 79th.
The result leaves Zanzibar top ahead of the hosts Kenya (four), Libya (four), Tanzania (one) and Rwanda (one) who round off the pool.
Having started the tourney with a draw against Libya on Sunday, Kilimanjaro Stars were eager to get their first win and head coach Ninje made two changes to his first 11; Mao coming on for Ibrahim Hajib while Mbaraka Abed relegated Daniel Langwa to the bench.
His decision was vindicated just before the half hour mark when Mao gave them in the lead against the run of play.
Zanzibar’s bright start was bloated by Ahmada’s complacency in the final third in the 16th when he failed to convert an inch perfect delivery from Issa Juma.
Their impressive start also claimed the influential Kelvin Yondan who was hauled off due to injury; his place being taken up by Boniface Maganga.
However, they were disjointed in attack with the absence of Suleiman destabilizing their attack.
As, Zanzibar struggled to find their rhythm upfront, Mao led Kilimanjaro from the front to slot calmly into the bottom left corner to break the deadlock.
With the tie evenly balanced, Heroes played their first card, introducing Suleiman for the jaded Yahya Mudathir moments before the hour mark.
He only lasted seven minutes before levelling the scores to the relief of Ahmada who had squandered a glorious opportunity a few minutes before with only Aishi Manula to beat.
With the tie destined to end in a stalemate, Ahmada sneaked unmarked at the back post to tap in Suleiman’s cross from the left which evaded the grasp of Manula who had come off his line to intercept.
“I’m happy to have scored the winner against Kilimanjaro. I have always wanted to play for Taifa Stars and this goal is a statement,” said an elated Ahmada who was voted man of the match.
In another match played at the same venue, Libya were held to a barren draw by a much improved Rwanda who picked their first point of the tournament after suffering two consecutive defeats against Kenya and Zanzibar.
Harambee Stars will take on Zanzibar on Saturday with the hosts out to punch their ticket to the semis with victory.