As if there are not enough regional football tournaments to speak of in this modern era of the beautiful game, the recent birth of the SportPesa Super Cup, now known as the SportPesa Cup, could not have come at a more pristine time.
The eight-team knockout tournament was launched in 2017 in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania and featured four teams from the Kenyan top flight – the SportPesa Premier League (SPL) and four from the host nation.
The SportPesa Cup was founded by the global gaming giants SportPesa, with a majority of the teams that feature in the tournament are the bookmakers East African partners.
Not only does the SportPesa Cup offer exposure for players from region and increase competition among clubs, but it comes with a prize that is unmatched and unseen in the current strides of African football.
The ultimate winner gets the portentous opportunity to play a once in a lifetime match against nine-time English League champions, Everton FC.
Kenya’s record league champions, Gor Mahia FC, are the undisputed kings of the tournament having emerged victorious in both editions, without conceding a single goal.
Gor’s stellar performance in the competition has gifted them the chance to play against EPL side Everton both on African and English soil, going down 1-2 in Dar before a 4-0 loss at Goodison Park in November 2018.
The 2018 edition was the last to be referred to as the SportPesa Super Cup and it was held at the Afraha Stadium in Nakuru, with the Kenyan sides this time round getting the opportunity to boast the home advantage that they never experienced in Dar.
Tusker FC and Nakuru All Stars FC who featured in the first edition were replaced by Kariobangi Sharks FC and Kakamega Homeboyz FC who joined Gor and AFC Leopards SC as the Kenyan forces.
Record Tanzanian league champions Simba SC, Yanga SC, Singida United FC and Zanzibar kings Jeshi la Kujenga Uchumi (JKU) were the visitors.
How it happened
The week-long tournament began with plenty of pomp and colour in the streets of Nakuru, with the first whistle of the tournament bringing with it lots of flare, underlining that the masses were in for a captivating week of football.
Yanga were first to be sent packing as seasoned forward Allan Wanga bagged a brace for Homeboyz before substitute Wycliffe Opondo got a late goal to seal a comfortable 3-1 victory and a place in the semis.
The champions took to the pitch next and their intent to defend the title was made clear from the onset as JKU found it very difficult to contain the Dylan Kerr-coached side.
George ‘Blackberry’ Odhiambo and now Kaizer Chief’s player Godfrey Walusimbi both scored to give Gor a 2-0 half-time lead before Meddie Kagere put the icing on the cake with a superb diving header.
An emphatic 3-0 victory for Gor as they stamped their authority and stated their desire to lift the coveted trophy once more.
The other two Kenyan sides were not as fortunate as their counterparts, both being knocked out of the tournament via penalty shoot-outs.
Sharks lost 2-3 to Simba courtesy of a brilliant performance by three-time TPL Golden Glove winner Aishi Manyula, who saved two spot kicks to ensure his side set up a semi-final clash against Homeboyz.
In the other quarter, 13-time domestic league winners AFC Leopards, who lost the previous tournament’s final were beaten 4-2 by Singida.
After a two-day rest period, the stakes were definitely higher, the stands were more packed as Homeboyz, and Simba took to the pitch for the first semi-final encounter.
It was a game filled with close-cut chances, horrid misses and fantastic saves from both sets of custodians as the referee blew for full time with the score still barren, meaning it was to be yet another shoot-out for Simba.
Midfielder Jonas Mkude was the hero for the Tanzanians as he kept his cool to score the decisive penalty after Wycliffe Opondo’s shock miss, sending them into their first ever SportPesa Cup final, much to the elation of the travelling fans.
The other semi did not prove to be as hotly-contested as the first with Gor making light work of Singida, a final 2-0 score courtesy of a goal in either half by the tournament’s top scorer Kagere.
There was yet another two-day rest period for all teams to prepare for the final day, with this bringing an opportunity to give back to the society.
Former Nigeria captain Yakubu Ayiegbeni together with some coaches from Everton FC, participated in a coaching clinic with Nakuru All Stars FC, who play in the second tier of Kenyan football- the National Super League (NSL).
Afterwards, they donated football jerseys and balls to local teams as part of SportPesa’s Kits For Africa initiative.
Just as was expected, the mood in and around the Afraha Stadium on June 10 told a story of it’s own.
The streets were filled with different colours, with fans from all walks of life streaming into the stadium to show their undying support for their individual teams on display.
Afraha was already registering record numbers from the day’s first kick-off, a third/fourth place play-off between both the losing finalists.
Opondo, the villain from the shootout, opened the scoring in the third minute and offered a sense of hope for the Paul Nkata-coached side, but Danny Lyanga had other plans as he blasted Singida level early in the second half.
The match ended in a stalemate and as the gods would have it, another dramatic penalty shoot-out would determine the bronze medalists and winners of the $7,500 cash prize.
The Tanzanians yet again proved their might from the spot as Singida emerged 4-1 winners.
With less than a half hour left until the final pitting the Kenyan and Tanzanian champions, the stadium was packed to capacity with many fans climbing trees and rooftops in the surrounding area just to catch a glimpse of the riveting action.
As the two sides walked out of the tunnel and onto the pitch, the noise from the K’Ogalo faithful could not be ignored, though the Simba fans in the stands made quite the noise as well.
Everton FC legend and second highest African goal-scorer of all time in the EPL, Yakubu Ayiegbeni, was in the stands for the mouth-watering final and would even later join former Harambee Stars coach Jacob ‘Ghost’ Mulee in the commentary box.
The game got off to a flying start as top scorer Kagere found the back of the net yet again in the sixth minute, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
Chances were not as many as expected and a rather cagey first half ended with Gor a goal to the good.
The second half was more enticing as both teams created more chances on goal and it paid off for the home side as prolific forward Jacques Tuyisenge got on the end of a brilliant pass from Humphrey Mieno to score.
Gor continued to dominate the match and held on for the 2-0 victory ensuring that they were once again to be crowned the champions, this time with a ticket to fly to the United Kingdom, becoming the first African club to play a match on English soil.
Having not conceded a single goal, Gor custodian Shaban Odhoji received the Golden Glove Award as Kagere was awarded the Golden Boot.
Gor received a handsome $30,000 for their efforts while runners-up Simba were recipients of a $10,000 cash prize for their respectable performance.