|Kenya's Sadam Abdulahi tussles for the ball with a Tanzanian player during a COPA match in Pretoria|
The COPA Coca-Cola inter-country tournament began in earnest, Monday, with the Kenyan team playing three matches.
Kenya started on a wrong footing in the first match after going down by a solitary goal from Zimbabwe’s Thaboka. Kenya were the better side in either half though and could have killed the game before the interval were it not for some wasteful finishing by front-men Geoffrey Alwala and Omar Mwinyi.
Mwinyi was the first to get a clear view of the opposition goal in the 7th minute but his whisked effort was an inch too far.
Kenya piled on more pressure for the rest of the half but could not find a way past the stubborn Zimbabwe defence.
They maintained the same tempo after the interval with Mohamed Saidi and Eugene Moses dictating the pace of the game in the midfield. Zimbabwe struggled to get any ball inside the Kenyan penalty area thanks to the defensive pair of Christopher Oruchum and Sadam Abdulahi who mopped up all that came their way.
Kenyan, however, were hit by a sucker punch 11 minutes into the second half when Kevin Otieno headed the ball into the path of Zimbabwe’s Thaboka who simply slotted home past Kenyan keeper Edwin Mukolwe.
Coach Arthur Apiyo made substitutions introducing attacking wide-man Castro Mwaura for Alwala but the Zimbabweans held on for a vital win.
The Kenyans players bowed out of the match a disappointed lot but what they did in their second match against Tanzania was impressive albeit they conceded two goals in the match.
The Tanzanians went into the East Africa derby match in high spirits having held one of the tournament favourites, Nigeria, to a 0-0 draw in their first match. However, by the end of the first half, it was the Kenyans who were partly celebrating after pulling ahead courtesy of a Eugene Moses penalty at the quarter hour mark.
Goalkeeper Edwin Mukolwe double Kenya’s lead barely two minutes into the second half when his goal-kick looped on top of a helpless Tanzania custodian Bakaria Hamadi. Kenya’s third would soon come via the skilful Mohamed Said who collected Alfred Wekesa’s cross before slotting home to give Tanzania a huge mountain to climb.
Kenya’s defence seemed to have gone to sleep thereafter as they allowed Bakari Hamadi to blaze in two quick fire goals that gave Tanzania some hope. It was not to be though as Kenya U17 team beat their Tanzanian counterparts.
In their third and final match of the day, Alfred Wekesa blasted in a second half equalizer for Kenya in their 1-1 draw against Nigeria
In other matches, Jonathan Katzombe and Dennis Saidi were both on target as Malawi shrugged off Uganda 2-1 with Mayanja Brian scoring the consolation for the East Africans.
Nigeria, again, fired blanks against Mozambique in their barren draw. Zambia’s Chipolopolo drew 0-0 against Central, East and West Africa (CEWA) combined team before crusing 2-1 past Zimbabwe. Uganda beat CEWA 1-0 in their second match.
On Tuesday, the Kenyan team will tackle their Zambia’s Chipolopolo before taking on Mozambique and archrivals Uganda respectively. The team that gathers the most number of points come Wednesday will be declared winners.
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