An Amos Frimpong penalty emerged as the decisive factor on Saturday as Ghanaian outfit Asante Kotoko edged Kariobangi Sharks of Kenya 2-1 in Kumasi to make the 2018-19 Caf Confederation Cup playoff round.
Below are some observations from the match-up:
Match fitness needs emergency attention
Without a competitive game since June, Kotoko's biggest challenge in the continental campaign was always going to do with physical readiness. In the first leg - their very first competitive game in six months - the long inactivity was just so telling. On Saturday, the situation was even more evident as the Porcupine Warriors struggled to exercise as much control as they showed in the first leg, allowing Sharks to mount a better challenge than they did at home. That said, Kotoko deserve commendation for successfully negotiating their first obstacle amid challenges.
Scoring problem lingers
Arguably, Kotoko's biggest problem of the last few seasons has to do with putting the ball at the back of the net. With the signing of Burkinabe striker Songne Yacouba - coupled with his early good showing - the scoring problem appeared to be on the mend and just in time for the African campaign. But a considerable layoff before the start of the Confederation Cup means the 26-year-old is currently far from his best. His backup Naby Laye Keita is also struggling to make an impression. On Saturday, it took an Amos Frimpong penalty to win the game, but this was a match that many had anticipated a cricket score for the hosts for several reasons. For a competition in which your progress is synonymous to how many goals you score - particularly at home - you can't afford to have a sharp-shooters' problem.
Midfield needs more oil
It is common knowledge in football that the strength of your midfield generally determines the strength of your team and for that matter your chances of success. Saturday's fixture exposed Kotoko badly in the area as Richard Senanu and Jordan Opoku failed to exercise the kind of control and dominion expected of them. Coach 'CK' did admit after the game that the area is one point that must be improved before the playoff exchanges. Hopefully, the likes Daniel Nii Adjei, Kwame 'Conte' Bonsu, and Umar Basiru can provide good options and solutions.
Dreaming too far may be costly
Kotoko's elimination from past continental inter-club competitions has been dramatic and alarming, not least because of the kind of teams they fell to and the stage at which they got kicked out. Last season in the Confederation Cup, the fiasco came at the hands of CARA Brazzaville of Congo in the preliminary round. By what the Porcupine Warriors have shown in their two games so far this season, coupled with all the unique challenges and situations facing them, the club's faithful need to be measured in their expectations.
Sharks not that bad as initially thought to be
By Sharks' nondescript showing in the first leg at home, the general consensus in Ghana was that the Kenyans are that bad a side that nothing but a massacre awaits them in Kumasi. Their performance on Saturday, however, left many scratching their heads as they posed more threat then they did at home, played with more purpose and showed more bravery. That it had to take a penalty and the smallest possible scoring margin to kick them out of the competition apparently won them back some pride and respect after the poor first-leg showing.