Best Of 2018: The Romantic Kariobangi Sharks' SportPesa Shield Story

Dec 27 - by Louis Kalinga for SportPesa News

Founded in 2000, the team bagged their first silverware by stunning Sofapaka in the final of the rebranded competition after the signing of a three-year deal with the leading bookmakers

Kariobangi Sharks FC players and staff celebrate with the 2018 SportPesa Shield trophy and KSh2m dummy cheque following their 3-2 victory over Sofapaka FC at the MISC, Kasarani on Saturday, October 20, 2018. PHOTO/Stafford Ondego/www.sportpicha.com

  • The tournament which was most recently referred to as the GOtv Shield due to sponsorship reasons has been previously known as the FKF Presidents Cup, Moi Golden Cup, Kenya Challenge Cup and FKL Cup among others
  • Unfortunately, the scintillating contest did not draw the crowd it deserved giving organisers a valuable lesson on how to attract supporters for the next edition that promises to be intriguing owing to the shortening of the local football calendar
  • In any cup competition, there is always that minnow that enjoys a dream cup run and the 2018 Shield witnessed the romantic story of a small community-owned club from the Western region, known as River Plate FC that made headlines

NAIROBI, Kenya- Since its inception in 1956, the domestic football knockout competition modeled on the English FA Cup has had different names and the 2018 edition gave birth to yet another one as the revamped SportPesa Shield was born.

The tournament which was most recently referred to as the GOtv Shield due to sponsorship reasons has been previously known as the FKF Presidents Cup, Moi Golden Cup, Kenya Challenge Cup and FKL Cup among others.

In May of this year, the Football Kenya Federation (FKF) and global gaming giants SportPesa launched the latest edition of the tournament in a three-year partnership that would feature 64 local teams from the different tiers of the Kenyan club football pyramid.

The clubs were divided as follows; 13 from the SportPesa Premier League (SPL), nine from the National Super League (NSL), 15 from Division One, 10 from Division Two and 17 from branches league with this year's competition starting with the two most-decorated domestic giants, Gor Mahia FC and AFC Leopards SC tied on the all time record list with 10 titles apiece.

However, the 2018 Shield brought with it a first-time winner as Kariobangi Sharks FC under the tutelage of William Muluya, swam to their first ever piece of silverware when they stunned three-time former winners Sofapaka FC 3-2 in a scintillating final.

The thrilling decider played at the Moi International Sports Centre, Kasarani on Saturday, October 20 saw George Abege become the toast for the side that finished third and second in the 2016 and 17 editions of the tournament by notching a brace for the winners, the second coming three minutes to full time. 

Unfortunately, the scintillating contest did not draw the crowd it deserved giving organisers a valuable lesson on how to attract supporters for the next edition that promises to be intriguing owing to the shortening of the local football calendar.

The epic victory in the domestic cup for the club that came into existence in 2000 saw Sharks represent Kenya in the second tier 2019 CAF Confederations Cup as well as a handsome KSh2m cash prize with their brave run ending in the first round of the competition when they were edged 1-2 by Ghanian giants, Kumasi Asante Kotoko after two bruising legs.

On the road to the final, the previous year’s losing finalists Sharks tore Ulinzi Stars FC to shreds, mauling the soldiers 4-1 in the first semi-final with crowd favorite Duke Abuya, Shafan Oyugi and a brace by 2018 SPL Golden Boot winner Eric Kapaito stuffing the soldiers who have never won the tournament in their glittering history.

The other semi-final saw holders Leopards' dream ended by Sofapaka at Kasarani, where a late Elly Asieche goal was enough to down the side that overpowered Sharks 2-0 to lift the title last year. 

The defeat ended any hopes of silverware Ingwe had in a season they slumped to seventh in the SPL as they missed the chance to nose ahead of the eternal enemy Gor in the all time honours' list.

Sharks were consistent throughout the tournament and their fans began to have hope for a first ever piece of silverware after they toppled Gor 3-2 on post-match penalties in a tersely contested quarterfinal, their first victory over the record 17-time league champions.

Domestic double

The cream of the last eight round was played at the Kenyatta Stadium in Machakos and a cagey affair ended in a barren draw, meaning the winner would be determined on penalties.

Pascal Ogweno, Bolton Omwenga and Abuya converted for the visitors, with Patillah Omotto failing to beat Boniface Odhiambo in goal.

K'Ogalo who were hunting a domestic double having been unmatched in the SPL scored through Francis Mustapha and Boniface Omondi while Bernard Ondiek and Joakim Oluoch missed their spot kicks.

At the same venue, Tusker FC who last won the title in 2016 when they completed the double failed in their bid for silverware when they fell 2-1 to Sofapaka, denying their head coach Robert 'The Lion' Matano of retaining the crown for his fourth Shield success having led Batoto ba Mungu, Ingwe and the brewers to the trophy.

Substitute Ezekiel Okare’s late winner for the beaten finalists as they sought to claim the prize, they won in 2010, 2011 and 2014.

In any cup competition, there is always that minnow that enjoys a dream cup run and the 2018 Shield witnessed the romantic story of a small community-owned club from the Western region, known as River Plate FC that made headlines.

Named after 36-time Argentine champions, River boasts of a relatively young squad with an average age of 22 years, consisting of college students and casual laborers. Team captain Collins Mwanzi, 30, is the oldest player.

The team formed two years ago, caught the eye of football fans across the country, as they became one of the two non-SPL teams to make it to the quarters of the competition.

Their dream of winning the title was ended at the Bukhungu Stadium on September 1 when they lost 4-1 to 2010 league winners Ulinzi but the giant killers had made a statement as one of the outfits to watch out for next season.

Coached by former Kakamega Homeboyz FC assistant coach Peter Okidi, they finished second in the fourth tier FKF Western Branch League behind Kabras United FC to earn promotion to the third division and they added the gross to their step up when defeated NSL sides Nakuru All Stars FC, Kisumu All Stars FC and Transcom FC to make it to the last eight.

In the second match of the double-header at Bukhungu, the score was replicated when holders Leopards ran riot and arrested Kenya Police FC 4-1 to give their success-starved fans something to hold on to as their SPL charge once again unravelled.

Their 2018 top scorer Whyvonne Isuza, Ezekiel Odera, Eugene Mukangula and Brian Marita were all on target for the then Rodolfo Zapata’s charges. Martin Mutua scored a consolation goal for Police in the 77th, but it was too little too late.

Deposed holders Leopards went on to beat Ulinzi 5-4 on post-match penalties to claim bronze at Kasarani on October 20.

Goalkeeper Ezekiel Owade produced two fine saves as the now Tom Juma-coached Ingwe ended an underwhelming season by their lofty stands with bronze and KSh750,000 in prize money in the domestic cup after the local giants shared a 1-1 stalemate in regulation time.

After a scoreless first half, Brian Ongoma put the soldiers ahead from the spot before Eugene Mukangula levelled for Leopards in the 84th to force the shootout.

As Sharks dream came true, with a first of what they hope will be many trophies in their quest to break into the established order of Kenyan football, local football fans can look forward to a new season with plenty of goals and upsets in the knockout competition.