WHO’S LAUGHING NOW? Awako & Great Olympics Silence Doubters with Hearts Win

Until now, not many seemed to have taken Accra Great Olympics’ form in the 2020/21 Ghana Premier League season seriously enough.

Despite their impressive displays, many are still waiting for the Dade Boys to return to their ‘old’ norm of suffering losing streaks and battling to retain their top-flight status. What these pessimists are yet to grasp, though, is that this Olympics side is, in many ways, different from previous versions that went through the aforementioned struggles.

The current team boasts better players, is more efficient, well-drilled and better-coached. Whereas they used to be perennially involved in a survival dogfight — if they were even fortunate enough to be in the Premier League, that is — Olympics are closer to being title contenders than ever in recent history.

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On Saturday, Olympics gave the clearest indication yet that they are one of the teams to watch out for, after beating capital rivals Hearts of Oak 2-0 in Accra’s Mantse Derby, a fixture that is undoubtedly one of the biggest on the Ghanaian football calendar.

Olympics went into the game trailing Hearts by just a point after 10 rounds of matches. But despite being almost level, Olympics were widely regarded as underdogs, and Hearts couldn’t resist the temptation to take a pre-match swipe at a team they’d only lost to once this century.

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A very cheeky preview of the game on social media saw Hearts describe themselves as ‘land-lords’, and their capital rivals — not so flatteringly — as ‘land-guards. To rub it in some more, the said tweet was accompanied by a photo of a gladiator — similar to the Thracian fighter Spartacus — severing the head of his opponent in an ancient Greek fighting pit.

It was a ‘war’ that Hearts, even against Olympics’ usually well-armed Twitter admin, were winning. Once the teams took to the field, though, the tables turned quickly and decisively, leaving no doubt as to which side was the real deal.

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Olympics put up a business-like performance, with two quick-fire, first-half goals from skipper Gladson Awako and Maxwell Abbey Quaye securing all three points. The scoreline, however, barely spelt out just how much better Olympics were than their more decorated neighbours.

Awako’s goal — man, what a freekick! — was also a personal win for the midfielder, as he continues to defy those who believe the praise he receives is effusive. For a player who has scored three goals, recorded two assists and won four MVP awards, it’s baffling how anyone would think Awako needs a hype train to trumpet these impressive statistics.

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That Awako, despite his remarkable showing and being the team’s brightest star this season, was not even Olympics’ best player on the evening tells of the level of quality that this setup boasts; the likes of Michael Otou, goalkeeper Salifu Saed (Man of the Match against Hearts), the Quaye brothers – Maxwell and Samuel – and Ebenezer Sekyere all shone.

But Olympics’ current fortunes are the result of good recruitment as much off the pitch as on it. The technical void left by head coach Annor Walker’s temporary absence — due to ill health — has been filled by former national star Yaw Preko. Supporting Preko in discharging his duties are Godwin Attram (assistant coach) and Richard Kingston (goalkeeper’s coach), both Olympics old boys and retired Ghana internationals.

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Of the other eight teams in the table’s upper half, Olympics — now fourth, just three points off the top — have played six and beaten three, only losing twice. All that is evidence of a plan that is working well and which refutes the notion that the brilliant season Olympics are having is a fluke.

Moments after the weekend’s win over Hearts, Olympics’ message was clear and emphatic: “WE OWN ACCRA,” they bragged on Twitter.

It was the perfect riposte to the Phobians’ earlier taunts, but the claim is also legitimate in the sense that Olympics have beaten every other team based at the Accra Sports Stadium this term without conceding — a run that has yielded nine of their league-high 10 away points.

There is, of course, still a long way to go in the campaign, and some teams will definitely lose steam as the season progresses, but Olympics have proven that they cannot be underrated.

It’s as though they are saying to the doubters: who’s laughing now?

Emmanuel Ayamga — Ink & Kicks

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