By Robin Toskin
As Sofapaka took a 2-0 cushion to the dressing room over AFC Leopards for the halftime ritual on June 29, their chairman Elly Kalekwa, clearly gleefully enjoying the score line, chuckled: "Sisi ni paka wadogo. AFC ni paka wakubwa!" (We are the smaller cats. AFC are the big cats).
Not that Sofapaka has anything to do with the cat, for Sofapaka is an acronym for SOte kama FAmilia, PAmoja Kuafikie Azimio.
But on that night at Nyayo Stadium, a little indulgence in incongruent comparisons would be welcome for Sofapaka faithful as AFC Leopards officials huddled on the VIP stand trying to discern what had hit them.
In the end, Sofapaka triumphed 3-1 thanks to Bob Mugalia’s brace and John Njoroge’s goal while DR Congo-born Burundian defender Jonas Nahimana struck from a free-kick on his debut.
Then, AFC Leopards were in a crisis. But hat storm is over, according to Dutch coach Jan Koops.
"We have made some progress towards solving our defensive problems. Imbalambala (Martin) is a rejuvenated player now and his return to the heart of the defence has brought some stability. Sofapaka are clearly the favourites, but we will put up a good fight," Koops told FeverPitch ahead of tomorrow’s clash at 7pm.
And after their 0-0 draw away to Tanzania giants Simba SC, Koops believes the felines are on the right track to recovery, but must beginning to put away myriad chances they create.
"I would have been worried if we were not creating chances at all. My concern though is we have to tuck them away," 70-year-old Dutchman said.
Koops used the friendly to test goalkeeper Patrick Matasi and came off with flying colours, but the Dutchman insists communication is key between his defenders and the man between the sticks.
Left back Collins Kisuya did not make the trip to Tanzania because of a stomach bug will return in place of Robert Syongoh, while Nahimana partner Imbalambala at the centre and Edwin Baraza manning the right back.
Mike Baraza, named joint Kandanda Award winner for July with Jerim Onyango, will lead the frontline again against a Sofapaka side frustrated by Nairobi City Stars last week.
With Tusker setting the pace at the top of the table, Francis Kimanzi cut a frustrated figure as City Stars, Sofapaka’s bogey team, pegged back his charges.
"Tell me the system you can use to break down a team that played with ten men behind the ball?" Kimanzi said when asked about his side’s inability to beat City Stars.
But with the availability of creative midfielder Humphrey Mieno whose move to Club Africain was put in the freezer, Kimanzi will hope to have the Allen key to unscrew the Leopards defence.
Bar the 1-0 victory over Sony Sugar and three points on the table from their unplayed game against Ulinzi Stars, the sale of utility captain James Situma to Albania’s FK Tirana and the temporary absence Mieno has stripped Sofapaka of pillars.
The 1-0 loss to Karuturi Sports and a 0-0 draw against City Stars may have left a whiff of blood on the trail of Leopards tomorrow evening.
But, only if Koops and Mickey Weche have actually replaced a pack of cards for a defence with real oak wood.