To be called a “gallant loser” isn’t the worst thing in the world, but no team ever looks to settle for that ‘compliment’ when going into a major final, regardless of how high against them the odds might be.
And that’s why Bechem United won’t find any pleasure in the defeat suffered last Sunday to Accra Hearts of Oak in Ghana’s latest FA Cup final. That sense of loss was deepened by the fact that Bechem could actually reach out and touch it at one point, even feeling the prize for the briefest of moments… before it slipped from their grasp.
They arrived sharper, despite having ten fewer FA Cup trophies than 11-time champions Hearts to their name, after making the short trip to Kumasi for the showdown. Bechem had certainly had the better league campaign, with only a limp end to the season costing them second place; they still finished third, though, and with the best points-per-game record in the club’s top-flight history.
Bechem were one of only two teams not to have lost a league game at home, winning all but six, and going as many as ten consecutive matches unbeaten; in the cup, they went all the way. That was down to head coach Kasim Mingle Ocansey, whose brilliance fashioned a formidable side that relied on the depth of the collective.
But there was also an abundance of individual class, supplied by a small core of game-changers and match-winners. Abdulai Iddrisu, unarguably the best goalkeeper in the land, was one such star performer. The 25-year-old strung together enough clean sheets to make a nice, little notebook, although he had help.
Centre-back Samuel Osei Kuffour – no, not the Bayern Munich great – was key to that defensive solidity, excelling in a manner that would make his famous namesake proud. Kuffour is set to join newly-crowned league champions Asante Kotoko, according to the rumour mill, but it was a former Kotoko player that brought Bechem’s cutting edge.
Augustine Okrah, who joined ahead of the 2021/22 season, proved himself a shrewd addition and finished with 18 goals across all competitions. Then you had young right-back Clinton Duodu, making a name for himself even before he was out of high school and promising a long and successful career.
There were lesser lights, too, all of whom contributed to Bechem enjoying the best combined league-and-cup campaign of any side; they just needed silverware to prove it, and beating Hearts would have ensured that.
The Phobians, despite being the more decorated club, were weaker on paper. They finished six points behind Bechem, enduring a forgettable season that saw them fail woefully in their league title defence bid and only coming sixth.
Bechem hadn’t beaten Hearts in years, and this occasion, with the latter so vulnerable and the stakes so high, seemed as good a time as any to break that yoke. And Bechem stated their intent forcefully from the start, launching an early onslaught that Hearts survived.
With half-time mere minutes away, though, Samuel Boadu’s team cracked.
Okrah, Bechem’s topscorer, struck at the Hearts goal. There was too much power behind the ball for goalkeeper Richmond Ayi to make a clean grab, however, and he parried it – but only as far as the lurking Emmanuel Avornyo.
The big Bechem forward took one touch to steady the ball and, before Ayi could even recover his bearings, another to score from close range. But just when Bechem seemed almost certain to go in with a slim advantage, Hearts snatched their equaliser, caught neatly on the volley by Caleb Amankwah from an inviting Samuel Inkoom cross.
After recess, on the hour mark, Hearts doubled their tally, courtesy of Daniel Afriyie Barnieh. A sharp finish to seal a wonderful move, by their most clutch player, gave Hearts a lead that Bechem failed to cancel. That failure owed a lot to the sheer strength of Hearts’ resolve, but was also due to the dismissal of the talismanic Okrah shortly after Hearts’ second goal.
Displaying little maturity and no shortage of folly, Okrah headbutted one of the match officials in protesting a decision and picked a deserved red card for it, in what looks like his last appearance for the club (he has since apologised). That may, or may not, be the reason Bechem lost the game – alas, would we ever know?
What isn’t up for debate, however, is that regardless of how the final – and, indeed, their season – ended, Bechem had an incredibly good run. And despite the seemingly imminent departures, there is still a lot from this term that they could carry into the next.
A planned pre-season tour of Europe should prepare them to better their lot, potentially helping Bechem overcome this fresh disappointment to do what all good Hunters do after an unrewarding expedition: go again.