WINDHOEK - Katutura glamour football club African Stars are left with a Mount Kilimanjaro to scale ahead of the decisive 2nd leg of their 2018/2019 Confederation of African Football (CAF) Confederations Cup match in Marakesh, on Sunday.
The Namibian champions surrendered a one-goal lead in the first half as they were held to a 1-all draw by visiting Moroccan outfit Raja Cassablanca at a half-empty Sam Nujoma stadium in Windhoek on Saturday.
Playing in front of a partisan home crowd in searing heat, the match produced plenty of adrenaline-pumping action with both teams playing an open game – much to the excitement of the spectators.
And while the hosts were the quickest to settle, paying frequent visits to the visitors’ goal, the reigning champions took considerable time to knuckle down as they dismally struggled adjusting to the unfriendly astroturf.
Stars’ mentor Bobby Samaria suprisingly hauled off gangling lone striker Kumbee Katjiteo, sending on Kaka Nekundi, nowadays going by the name of ‘Hallelujah’.
However, the change did not yield any immediate positives as the giant forward was gravely starved of decent ball supply from his midfielders.
The hosts got off brightly, searching to unsettle their more fancied opponents and managed to create a few half goal-scoring opportunities in the process.
Much-travelled gangling goal poacher Katjiteo was gravely isolated running a lone battle against the well-organised visitors’ rearguard before giving way to Nekundi with half an hour gone on the clock.
Raja tried all tricks in the book of tricks to slow down the tempo and absorb the pressure from their marauding hosts and were comfortably stationed for the better part of the match in their own half with emphasis on ball possession.
The Reds’ game plan to catch the visitors on the counter almost paid dividends, but were let down in the final quarter. With the tie evenly balanced, the hosts deseverdly took the lead through an unlikely source.
Defensive midfielder Mbwale Handura unleashed one of his trademark long range deliveries that kissed the roof of the net – leaving bemused Moroccan shot stopper Anas Zniti catching flies (1-0), six minutes before the changeover.
The former Tura Magic player collected a well weighted pass from the ever enterprising Zimbabwean Crispen Mbewe.
After the resumption, Raja knuckled down to some serious business as they started to bamboozle the overworked Reds’ defence with deft inter play. Stars fullback Tinkler Kahua gifted away a rather soft corner kick.
From the ensuing set piece, the visitors reacted quickly, catching their napping opponents by surprise as they dismally failed to deal with the susequent delivery – thus allowing the ever alert Soufiane Rahimi to slot the ball home from close range for the much important away goal (1-1).
With eight minutes left on the clock, Mbewe should have given Stars the lead and possible victory but his hastily taken attempt was off target while second half substitute Image Isaaks had his goal-bound shot blocked by skipper Badr Benoun.
The visitors could feel hard done when Cameroonian referee Antoine Max Depadoux Effa Essouma waved away what looked like a legitimate claim for a spot kick after Abdelilah Hafidi was fouled in the penalty box.
Despite the result, coach Juan Carlos Garrido heaped praises on his players for a wonderful team effort, saying the heat and artificial turf made it difficult for his charges.
“It was a difficult match but I’m happy with the overall result. The match official denied us a clear penalty. Nonetheless, African Stars played well and made it difficult for us,” he concluded.
His opposite number Bobby Samaria expressed disappointment in not collecting maximum points, but notably the fashion in which his charges conceded the equaliser.
“We knew they are not that solid defending crosses and accordingly scored our goal from the wing. Unfortunately, we allowed them to level matters through a silly goal.
“Nobody gave us a chance because Raja are the defending champions, which proves that at this level one small mistake, you are gone,” said a clearly agitated Samaria.
The Reds travel to Morocco this week for the decisive 2nd leg slated for Marrakech, on the 20th of this month. – Additonal reporting by Nampa
2019-01-14 11:56:12 6 days ago