After being controversially kicked out of the CAF Champions League by Sudanese club Al Hilal — or was it by the Confederation of African Football itself? — Asante Kotoko have been handed the ‘reward’ of facing Algeria’s ES Setif in the final qualifying stage of the less lustrous CAF Confederation Cup.
They go into that two-legged tie on the back of a great domestic run that, following a highly improbable win away to Karela United last weekend (the hosts’ first home loss in five years), has elevated them to the top of the Ghana Premier League (GPL) table. Impressive as that is, Kotoko’s next assignment presents a different kind of hurdle.
Abdulai Gazale’s first job as substantive head coach involves preparing to deal with Setif’s triple offensive threat of Mohammed Amoura, Youssef Laouafi and Houari Ferhani at one end of the pitch, while scheming to break down a defence that has conceded just five times in 12 league games this season. The latter, really, is where the game could be won or lost, depending on how Gazale plays his tactical cards.
From Kotoko’s previous home games this season, we have come to expect a 4-4-2 formation, spearheaded by attackers Kwame Opoku and Naby Keita. Behind them, in midfield, Emmanuel Sarkodie and Abdul Latif Anabila are likeliest to start. Those two were terrific at Karela, with Anabila — at his elegant and athletic best — standing out for special mention.
The former Ashgold man was irresistible for Kotoko, making an exhibition of his willingness to run, to press, to surge forward and get in behind, and to pick out pin-point passes. Facing the pacey and skillful Algerians, though, the Anabila-Sarkodie pairing could be subjected to lots of trouble.
Gazale should, thus, adopt a more cautious approach that would see Anabila threading more through-balls. Sarkodie’s box-to-box style is amazing and a true beauty to behold, but his strengths sparkle a little more when up against superior attacking talent; how he is positioned and utilized on the field, then, will make a big difference.
Then there is Brazilian import Fabio Gama, who has brought in more attacking and creative qualities, sitting behind the forwards and stringing vital passes with intelligence. Should he do that job well enough on Sunday, Gama would be one more key — deputy skipper Emmanuel Gyamfi is still another — with which Gazale could unlock Setif’s resolute backline at the Accra Sports Stadium.
Much of that service, of course, would be shoveled into the path of Opoku, Kotoko’s hitman upfront, and if the No.9 proves as clinical as he has been in the domestic league, Kotoko are in with a chance. They ought to take it one leg at a time, though, and in the specific context of African football, the first leg – especially if it is at home – always offers the brightest prospects.
Godfred Budu Yeboah — Ink & Kicks