|KPL Top 8 tournament: Curse or blessing|
|Friday, 29 April 2011 14:10|
Before the introduction of this all expenses paid knock out tournament, KPL clubs had to contend with the dullness of playing just thirty matches in an entire season. FKL cup was doing rounds but had until last year been shunned by most clubs. Community clubs and Nation wide sides dominated the FKL cup and its popularity remained dwarfed until Gor Mahia lifted the trophy in 2008 plunging them back to continental affairs after a noticeable absence. The direct thrust into continental championship drew attention to the cup formerly known as Moi Golden cup. Winners of 2009 AFC Leopards tried but failed to go past Banks of Ethiopia last year but Martin Imbalambala made a name out of it.
Sofapaka are currently trotting the continent courtesy of the same, and taking the cue from Imbalambala – this time on a greater scale - Ezekiel Akwana has carved his name among the greats and still has a chance to paint it brighter than his peers and seniors. Then premier league fathers thought of a magic to make the domestic league more competitive. Up until last year, only the league winners had a thing to show for it – a trophy for the cabinet and a slot in the champions` league in which a formidable Egyptian club is unleashed upon the Kenyan champion to ravage and harvest goals either home in Egypt or better still in Nairobi. The resulting shame spreads in the entire football fraternity as local fans donning expensive European club jerseys pour scorn on local football opting instead to be associated with the Arsenals, Manchester`s, Chelsea`s and Liverpool`s of the other world.
League fathers hatched the brilliant idea of engaging the best eight teams in a moneyed knock-out competition with a tempting million cash prize dangled for any team daring enough to cash. With this all teams fight if not to win the league, then to finish among the best eight and challenge for the million. Each win in the competition comes along with 0.2 million besides the allowances and other expenses having been footed by the league body. A fair draw was done and teams pooled for the million shilling ball with the best four being seeded while the remaining four picked their lots and fell for any team among the seeded. Western stima tossed Tusker out in pool A where the latter was seeded ahead of Henry Omino`s side. Stima pocketed 0.2million and progressed to the semi final Where Ali Bai Cancelled out John Baraza`s goal and ensured Stima fly back for the return leg in two weeks with equal chance of progressing to the finals.
Sofapaka had bundled out a controversy stricken Sony sugar to set the clash with Stima. In other pools, Gor Mahia disposed of slum boys Mathare United with a 2 – 0 win and drew 0 – 0 with Ulinzi who had shown James Nandwa the door with a 2 – 0 triumph over Karuturi. Even as clubs savor the top eight goodies and brace for the ultimate prize, a cross section of participants have a bone to pick with KPL over the tourney. Pressure is mounting on coaches from club owners who eye league title and at the same time are engaged in Top Eight and the coaches in return shift the blame to Top Eight.
Francis Kimanzi of Sofapaka took a swipe at the organizers blaming the competition for wearing out players and rendering them ineffective during league games. Sofapaka General Manager Jimmy Ambajo had welcomed the competition as a morale booster for teams out of league title reach but within range of best eight. For Sofapaka, it is understandable that they are engaged in continental tie as well as the league chase. Gor Mahia coach Zedekiah Otieno had blamed his team`s loss to City stars on fatigue. Gor were playing City stars three days after trouncing Mathare united in the preliminary round of Top Eight.
For Western Stima, however, the tournament could not have come at a better time. Following their win over Tusker in pool A, Stima coach said:’ the competition is a blessing to us. We finished number eight in the league but we now have something to show for our effort because even having eighth spot is no easy task.’ ‘Besides the cash prize to be won, the tournament is a great motivation to my players and I`m happy for them,’ he added.
Ulinzi stars coach echoed similar sentiments and hailed the organizers for minding about teams that fail to lift league title. He said: ` I have thirty players in my camp and I`m compelled to alternate them so that fatigue does not take its toll on overworked players. The tournament is definitely what has been lacking in our system and I urge fellow coaches to use this tournament to field and gauge reserve players.’
The matches are beamed live on Supersport on Wednesday nights and the revenue generated from ticket sales is used to fund the Under 19 youth tournament played during April, August and December holidays. Gor Mahia host Ulinzi in the second leg tie of the first semi final coming Wednesday while Stima engage Batoto ba Mungu in a similar tie one week later unless stated. Sofapaka will host St Eloi Lupopo of Congo DR on the eighth day of May in CAF Continental championship and could ask for a deferral of their clash with Stima.