African Stars booked their place in the final of the Dr Hage Geingob Cup – courtesy of a hard-fought penalty shootout triumph over a stubborn Julinho Sporting in an action-packed semi-final at the Independence stadium in Windhoek last night.
Underdogs Julinho Sporting started the match like a house on fire, forcing their more illustrious opponents onto the back foot in the opening stages of an otherwise entertaining first half.
With both teams giving nothing away in defense, it was the hosts that broke the deadlock through veteran winger, Meraai Swartbooi. The stocky winger rose above the static Julinho’s rearguard to head home Dennis “Law” Tjetjinda’s inviting delivery just past the half-hour mark, beating Mufalai Kasuka hands down.
However, Stars’ celebrations were to be short-lived as the Rundu outfit restored the score board by scoring the equaliser in similar fashion.
Striker Salom Omseb’s powerful header left Stars’ net guard, Helmuth Maletzky, catching flies when he connected powerfully with a well-measured corner kick minutes before the change-over to give the teams a share of the spoils going into break.
The second half kicked off at the same high pace, but it was the MTC Premiership champions that showed intent by launching dangerous attacks. Substitute Trust Mkandawira, was a constant threat and a thorn in the flesh of the visitors’ clearly overworked defense, producing unpredictable darting runs down the wing.
The Zimbabwean import replaced the injured Asprilla Wermann and immediately changed the entire complex of the pattern of the game as he brought a new dimension into Stars’ playing style.
Veteran midfielder Johannes “Boetietjie” Seibeb, enjoyed a field day, controlling the midfield battle and dishing out astonishingly clever play and displaying the much-needed confidence to demonstrate why he is rated amongst the finest midfielders in the business.
Stars were the more enterprising side going into the final half, but woeful shooting and countless poor decision-making, coupled by over-eagerness by Mkandawira, proved to be a major stumbling block.
At the other end of the field, the striking pair of Lloyd Chimuchenge and Araujo Uakumbirwa combined well to put the resolute and well-oiled Stars rearguard under siege. But the Reds’ backline – under the command of captain fantastic, Pat-Nevin Uanivi – would not budge.
With neither side managing to find the net in the second half after regulation time, with the tie ending in a one-all stalemate, the result had to be decided via the lottery of the dreaded penalty shootout to decide the winner.
Stars eventually booked their place in the final after Julinho’s Risto Makuti’s poorly struck spotkick was parried away by Maletzky to give the Reds a well-deserved 5-4 win on penalties.
Stars now await the outcome of the other semi-final between defending champions Sundowns and Angolan outfit, Premeiro de Agosto, which took place late last night.