Between them, Asante Kotoko and Legon Cities hadn’t managed a single victory in six Ghana Premier League games this season. When the two clubs met on the Friday night slot at the Accra Sports Stadium that is fast becoming a fan favourite, one was bound to end their run of misery.
Kotoko did, and not very surprisingly. This was the third game they had prepared for — physically and psychologically — in a week, but the only one they actually got to play. All that pent-up energy gushed forth quickly, a torrent that could – and should – have drowned Cities.
That was the promise, anyway, when Osman Ibrahim, so prolific on loan at King Faisal last season, got the opener. It could have come a little earlier, from Kwame Opoku, the guy who scored Kotoko’s only two league goals prior to Ibrahim’s. But Fatau Dauda, the veteran keeping goal for Cities, wasn’t letting that past him. When a short-corner routine was worked into the box, Opoku missed that, too — but no problem; his strike partner was on hand to steer the ball home.
If you’ve followed Kotoko’s exploits this season, though, you’d know a one-goal lead isn’t worth reveling in. Twice they’ve had that advantage in the league, and once in the Caf Champions League, only to let their opponent back in to claim a point on all three occasions. And that’s what Cities nearly did, but for forward Raphael Ocloo’s poor judgment and even worse finishing skills.
He was subbed off after an hour, and on came a man whose son happens to be Ocloo’s namesake (sorry, I just couldn’t resist chipping in that bit of trivia!): Asamoah Gyan — the biggest player in the league, and the man whose very presence instantly infused into this fixture more meaning than ever before.
Kotoko have always been the club after Gyan’s own heart, and a partner of the mineral water-producing company that the former Ghana captain counts among his many businesses. A deal to fulfil his lifelong dream of playing for Kotoko fell through a few months ago, and Cities quickly swooped in for Gyan’s services. Cities new head coach Bashir Hayford — himself a successful former Kotoko trainer — waited a good while to parade and flaunt his club’s marquee signing; when he finally did, though, it was to precious little effect.
Current Kotoko head coach Maxwell Konadu, whose own substitutions on the evening were more forced (by injuries) than strategic, was ready with a plan to nullify Gyan’s renowned powers — or so he claimed.
“I know the player inside out,” Konadu bragged post-match, apparently in reference to the considerable period he spent in the past working with Gyan as a national team coach.
“I told my players not to get too close to him because he likes to control, turn and shoot. I told them to stay at least 2 meters away from him, getting too close to him is dangerous.”
Gyan’s best chance at stirring up trouble for Kotoko, indeed, came from a position where Kotoko’s closest players were quite some way off — a fairly straightforward strike from a distant freekick that goalkeeper Kwame Baah easily gathered.
And Kotoko could have killed off the game — wait… aren’t the Veo cameras capable of picking up this rather glaring flaw of Konadu’s team? — late on, had Emmanuel Gyamfi been more clinical when clean through against Dauda.
In the end, though, a goal was enough for the win — taking Kotoko, with two games in hand, a few places up the table — and that’s way more than has often been said of Kotoko this season.