On Sunday, first-half goals from Safiu Abdul Fatawu, Emmanuel Gyamfi and Martin Antwi helped Asante Kotoko to a 3-0 victory over Zambia’s Nkana FC in the Cup Confederation Cup group stage.
The result at the Kumasi’s Baba Yara Stadium has moved coach Charles 'CK' Akonnor's outfit to second in Group C behind Sudan's Al Hilal Omdurman, who beat Zesco United - also of Zambia - 3-1 in the other group game to reach seventh points. Kotoko, on six points, are only ahead of tie-mates Nkana, who sit third due to an inferior goal difference. Bottom-placed Zesco, on the other hand, have four marks to their name.
Below were some observations from the Kotoko-Nkana showdown:
Akonnor a tactical genius
With captain Amos Frimpong suspended, Akonnor was forced to do without one of his most influential men. Daniel Darkwah got the left-back starting spot over Abass Moahmmed in the skipper’s absence, a decision which the coach called a “big risk” at the post-match conference considering the concerns about his choice’s match fitness prior to the game.
There were some other big calls. At right-back, Augustine Sefah replaced Habib Mohammed who started the first leg, a similar situation to Wahab Adams and Martin Antwi taking the places of Emmanuel Agyemang Badu and Maxwell Baakoh at centre-back and on the wings respectively. Akonnor’s decisions proved a masterstroke as the full-backs proved a constant threat going forward while ably attending to their defensive duties. Adams put up a solid display while Antwi capped his outing with a sublime goal. Importantly, the good work of the three new faces in defence helped Kotoko register their first home clean sheet this season.
More match fitness needed for second halves
Nine of Kotoko’s 10 goals scored in this season’s Confederation Cup have come in the first halves. That is no coincidence. The Porcupine Warriors entered the championship in November hugely low on match fitness and stamina, having prior played a competitive game as far back as June 2018.
After a blistering first-half performance against Kalampa, one which obviously proved too much to contain for the Zambians, Kotoko came into the second stanza with a dropped tempo, allowing Nkana to control the early period. Indeed, had the visitors been sharper, they could have scored, a situation which could have easily changed the complexion of the game. There’s certainly more work to be done by Akonnor to get his men well and fully up to the task.
Yacouba is the main man
Throughout this campaign, Burkinabe striker Songne Yacouba has struggled in front of goal. What he hasn’t struggled with – at all – is the proof that he is undoubtedly the Porcupine Warriors’ talisman, having come into Sunday’s game with one goal and five assists, the latter stat proving how influential he has been.
Although he did not score or assist on Sunday, he was a constant menace for Nkana’s defence. If he had more luck in front of goal, he could easily have finished the game with a hat-trick – like he could have in all the other games he has started. If Fatawu were sharper, he could have turned his shot into the net when Yacouba beat his marker for pace and delivered a sweet cut-back into the box. The Burkinabe’s work-rate, assists, ability to cut open opposing defence and create space for others were all highlighted against Kalampa.
Home and defensive devils exorcised
Until Sunday, Kotoko had won all three games at home thus far and by the same thin margin. But worryingly, they have conceded in all three matches, 2-1 win each, over Kariobangi Sharks of Kenya in the first round, Coton Sport Garoua of Cameroon in the playoff round and Zesco United in the group stage. That has left many questions about their defence, which has undoubtedly been their chief weakness.
A clean sheet at Baba Yara against Kalampa, however, calms fears about playing in front of the impatient home crowd, while providing some much-needed relief for the heavily-criticised backline.
Kotoko on course for quarter-finals
That the Porcupine Warriors have their destiny in their own hands with two more matches to go is refreshing. Currently, Kotoko are second on the table, one point behind leaders Al Hilal, whom they will face at home in their next match on Sunday. A win against the Sudanese will effectively send Akonnor’s men top of the table on nine points. Depending on the result of the other matchday five game between Zesco and Nkana, should Kotoko beat Al Hilal, a draw will be all the Porcupine Warriors will need in the last game at Zesco to book a quarter-final place. Two successive wins, however, will be well enough to take Kotoko through regardless of the outcomes of the other matches.