STEWART HALL returned to the bench as his Azam FC side cruised into the semifinals of the Charity Cup tournament after thrashing 10-man Real de Kinshasa 2-1 in an absorbing encounter at the Martyrs Stadium in Kinshasa.
This was in fact Azam's first victory in three group matches the Tanzanian side have played. The Dar es Salaam-based team have landed invitation to compete in the ten-day tournament, organized by the Federation of Congo Football Associations (FECOFA).
They launched their campaign with a 1-1 draw with Dragons and tumbled to 2-0 defeat at the hands of Shark FC before Wednesday's win over Real de Kinshasa that put them into the semis.
It was, however, a hard-fought win that came at a cost as Azam lost three players, Ghanaian striker Kipre Tchetche, Waziri Salum and new signing Kenyan Humphrey Mieno, to injury. The trio were victims of rough and physical play by their Congolese opponents.
Azam welcomed back their head coach Hall and were boasted on the pitch with the presence of Ghanaian Tchetche, his twin brother Kipre Bolou and Kenyan Joackins Atudo, who missed the opening two games following visa problems.
Azam dominated the proceedings for the most part of game but were occasionally pegged back by the opponents' dirty tricks. The Congolese team resorted to some very bad rough play. But that could hardly stop Gaudence Mwaikimba, seeking to rediscover his form of old, from opening the scoring for Hall's side after 21 minutes.
The towering striker connected home a Tchetche's brilliant cross from the left for his second goal in the tournament. His first came against the Dragons. Tchetche was forced off in the 43rd minute following a nasty tackle by Real's player and was replaced by Samih Hajji Nuhu.
Real de Kinshasa's foul play would not go unpunished. Referee Madila Achille flashed red card to defender Muipalayi Igongo following a reckless challenge that threatened to end Mwaikimba's involvement in the game.
Few minutes into the second half, Waziri Salum was stretched off after another bad tackle from a Congolese opponent, paving way for new signing Uhuru Selemani, who has joined the Ice Cream makers from Simba ahead of the second round of the Mainland Premier League.
Azam doubled their advantage in the 73rd minute through new recruitment Seif Abdallah following a swift counter attack. Mwaikimba controlled a long ball from keeper Mwadini Ally and spotted Hajji Nuhu's run on the left. Nuhu, then, made a good run into the box and released Seif who finished off the move.
Mieno picked up injury in the 77th minute and it looked like he could not continue so Abdi Kassim 'Babi' replaced him. A minute later Bisole Panzu scored what would prove a consolation goal for Real de Kinshasa. After the final whistle Hall praised his players but lamented the loss of his four players ahead of the semi-finals.
Azam lined as follows: Mwadini Ally, Himid Mao, Waziri Salum/Uhuru Suleiman, Omar Mtaki/Joackins Atudo, David Mwantika, Jabir Aziz, Kipre Balou/Malika Ndeule, Seif Abdallah, Kipre Tchetche/Samih Hajji, Humphrey Mieno/Abdi Kassim, Gaudence Mwaikimba.