New faces, old territory: Can Asante Kotoko go all the way in this year's Caf Champions League?

The Porcupine Warriors are back in Africa and kick off their campaign on Sunday, Ghana’s Nana Frimpong weighs their chances as they face Sony Nguema
 Nana Frimpong
 Feature | Ghana
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Come Sunday, Ghanaian football giants Kumasi Asante Kotoko would stage a return to the continental inter-club flagship competition, three years after they last waded in such waters.

In the period of their hiatus, a lot has changed - mostly for the better - at the club. Last season, the Porcupine Warriors won the Ghana league at a canter, leaving their nearest challengers trailing them by some 14 points, and playing some delightful attacking football with it. That was under the youthful Maxwell Konadu, one of the club's former players, who has now moved on to assist Kwesi Appiah - himself another who represented Kotoko in the not-too-distant past - at the helm of the national team. 
Konadu's magic no more

In Konadu’s place is Mas-Ud Didi Dramani, the man who masterminded Ghana's Black Maidens historic run to a bronze medal finish at the last Fifa Under-17 Women’s World Cup and one of the country's promising albeit less celebrated managers. Dramani's Kotoko have arguably been far less impressive than the team that was under his predecessor - having established the domestic league's record for drawn games this season, eight in all - yet have shown enough might to inspire fear in many an opponent, a trait which has seen them suffer defeat just once and leaves them in third place on the league standings, only four points off the top with half of the scheduled fixtures cleared.

Still, there is no gainsaying the fact that the Kotoko of season 2012-2013 have got nothing on the squad that donned the famous red shirts last term and appear a little short of the capacity they need to make a truly strong impact in Africa, a deficiency most obvious in attack where they seem to lack sufficient firepower in spite of the potent arsenal they possess - on paper, at least - in that department.

Again, the team has lost quite a few players who were key to their remarkable success last season, not least the likes of defensive stalwart Awal Mohammed, last year's GPL Most Valuable Player Daniel Nii Adjei, and attacker Ahmed Toure, all of whom are now plying their trade elsewhere on the continent.

Nevertheless, there is good cause for optimism for the club and its hordes of expectant fans, going into this campaign.

For one, Kotoko is as well-prepared financially as it has ever been ahead of these competition, having raked in significant amounts from fund-raising campaigns and monetary donations from some sympathetic institutions and, as the likes of TP Mazembe and Enyimba have reminded us in recent years, being properly bankrolled could make all the difference between a successful campaign and a forgettable one.

The present team also boasts a number of players who have lots of experience and are battle-ready enough to anchor this fairly young side, among them the likes of Michael Helegbe, Ransford Osei and Burkinabe goalkeeper Soulama Abdoulaye who would be returning from a rewarding Africa Cup of Nations outing improved.
Garden City ready for CL

For the first two rounds of competition, Kotoko would have little to fret over -although they would know better than get wholly complacent - as they get to begin their journey with unfancied Sony Eguema from Equatorial Guinea and then - if they can emerge unscathed and negotiate qualification to the next stage - book dates with the victor of the tie between Algeria’s JSM Bejaja and Nigerien outfit Olympique FC, neither of whom should give them much trouble. Once they glide past these lesser lights, their quest for that elusive third title - exactly three decades after their last - really begins, as they are likely to be pitted against clubs who, like Kotoko themselves, count themselves among the continent's elite.

So, then, Caf Champions League football returns to Kumasi after so long a while, and occupants of the city - mostly die-hard Kotoko fans - would be hoping their team emulates and even outdoes, if possible, the template laid down for Ghanaian clubs by competition debutants Berekum Chelsea in the previous edition. Starting with what should be an easy victory to pick up at their fortress Baba Yara Stadium this weekend.