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Fierce Leopards have shown their true spots

By JOHN ASHIHUNDU
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AFC Leopards are back on their feet after their success in the GOtv Shield tournament proving that they are up and running again.

The long period of success drought has ended and conquest has finally returned to the Ingwe family after the team beat Kariobangi Sharks 2-0 in a final they dominated despite some pundits dismissing their chances of winning.

It was a deserved reward for their hard work.

Ingwe showed all signs of a revival and better days certainly lie ahead for the club.

The team put on one of the most commanding performances this season and their exploits saw them claim Sh2 million in prize money and a ticket to represent Kenya in next year’s Confederation Cup.

No one perhaps deserves more credit for this triumph than coach Robert “the Lion” Matano, who replaced Dorian Marin, with a promise to rebuild the side.

Matano should be rewarded with a longer contract and a war chest to recruit a few high quality players to bolster the team. This process must start now so that Ingwe can go into the continental competition with a revamped and well prepared team.

The six-month contract he signed is not enough to make Leopards claw again. Having worked and succeeded with different clubs, Ingwe supporters have high expectations for Matano.

Known to be a no-nonsense tactician, the 53-year-old coach has built several sides almost from scratch, developing youngsters and turning them into winners.

Matano joined a struggling side that had failed to register a win in eight league matches.

The much travelled coach, who is now aiming for a top eight finish in the league, is a proven winner. To him, the Shield victory was never in doubt.

He has won two league titles, one with Sofapaka in 2009 and with Tusker in 2012.

In the run up to the 2017 GOtv Shield final many wondered what ‘The Lion’ had done with the squad after a scrappy win against Vihiga United in the semi-final.

Even pundits had favoured Sharks to win, while the commentators had not forgotten the club’s financial challenges.

Ingwe looked strong in every department and won praise for their display, but Matano still feels there is work to be done to return the club to the top.

A relatively young AFC Leopards delighted the fans and showed the world that they can be a force to reckon with in the future.

Ingwe took to the field lowly rated, but wasted no time in proving their critics wrong.

The game was of high quality, featuring some spectacular goals worthy of winning awards. This year’s victory makes Ingwe boast a record 11 titles since the competition’s inception in 1956.

Ingwe, made attacking their priority, against Sharks, who appeared to be struggling to find their rhythm.

The team was well prepared for any confrontation and remained focused though out the game. What made Ingwe so good was the unity. The current squad is a bunch of tight friends and that is what made them so strong and saw them rise to the occasion.

The victory on Friday came as a relief to the long suffering Ingwe fans with the club making a return to the continental scene having last featured in 2013. The Shield victory was achieved without three internationals, Robinson Kamura, Marcelas Ingosi and Keziron Kizito.

Immediately after the final whistle, Ingwe fans led by Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja and Makadara MP George Aladwa, stormed the pitch at Kasarani to carry the heroes shoulder high.

While the fans are still celebrating, club chairman Daniel Mule and his office should head to the drawing board to plan for next season.