HEARTS IN AFRICA: Baptism by Fire Would Do Phobians A Lot of Good
For fans of Accra Hearts of Oak, that first game back in the CAF Champions League cannot come soon enough.
The wait, 13 years long now, was supposed to end this weekend, but for a recent coup d’etat in Guinea that has reduced their tie with CI Kamsar to a one-legged affair scheduled for next Sunday.
The Phobians do have genuine reasons to feel confident of clearing this first hurdle. The sole decider comes off on their own turf, the Accra Sports Stadium, against a side that isn’t even the best in its homeland and isn’t nearly as pedigreed as Hearts are in the continental business.
Beyond that, though, Hearts’ faithful would have to be a little measured in their expectations.
The reward for beating and eliminating their Guinean opponents would be a date with Wydad Casablanca. The Moroccans have reached at least the semi-finals of the competition six times — including three final appearances and one triumph — in the last decade, and would be quite formidable opposition; far more formidable, for a fact, than Kamsar.
Should Hearts manage to overcome that challenge and advance as far as the group stage — a feat no Ghanaian side has managed since Berekum Chelsea in 2012 — it would pass as significant success, but the stakes only get higher from there.
Not that things would be any easier if they fall to Wydad; that outcome would mean slipping down to the CAF Confederation Cup, where the might of the likes of RS Berkane, JS Kabylie, Enyimba, CS Sfaxien, AS Vita Club, Coton Sport and Orlando Pirates lurks.
This isn’t to say Hearts aren’t good enough for the task ahead, of course. Head coach Samuel Boadu is a rising star in the African game, and the squad he has constructed thus far can weather a storm; you don’t win both the Ghana Premier League and FA Cup in one season unless you’re some force, obviously.
As many a Ghanaian champion has found out in recent years, though, domestic dominance can quickly wilt in the heat of continental class. Especially for a team whose best parts haven’t been together for very long, and which is still very much a work in progress, Hearts are truly up against it.
Hearts fans do know a thing or two about going all the way in inter-club competitions: they won the Champions League in 2000, after all, and the CAF Confederation Cup five years later.
Still, it would be a tad unreasonable to expect Boadu and his charges — featuring not many players with significant relevant experience — to immediately roll back the years to those glorious times that the club so fondly recalls but is so far removed from.
Expect a baptism by fire, one that would help forge this Hearts team into stronger, sterner stuff than they are already made of, even if — if — they don’t emerge unscathed.