Africa’s greatest club sides of all-time: Asante Kotoko 67-73

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Goal, in association with African Football HQ, remember the greatest club sides in the continent’s sporting history

Guest Feature | Lotfi Wada

Goal, in association with African Football HQ, are delighted to introduce the second instalment of our series celebrating the greatest club sides in the history of the continent’s game.

In Part One, we presented the two sides who rank 15th and 16th in our all-time continental ranking of the great African club cycles, and now we focus on the great Asante Kotoko side of the late 60s and early 70s.

Follow the team at African Football HQ for some of the finest news and stats related to the continental game.

The greatest club run in the history of Ghanaian football began in 1967, with what was perhaps the most bizarre crowning in the history of the African game.

After reaching the final unbeaten thanks to the exploits of Osei Kofi, Robert Mensah, Pare Kofi, Ben Acheampong and Ibrahim Sunday, the Ghanaians faced Tout Puissant Englebert, the predecessors of TP Mazembe, in the final.

Although they were favourites due to the high contribution of Kotoko players to Ghana’s historic Africa Cup of Nations double (1963-1965), the first leg ended 1-1 in Kumasi.

The young Ghanaians had a mountain to climb in Kinshasa.

In the mighty Tata Raphael stadium, packed with 100,000 fans and the late President Mobutu himself, the Kumasi-based side were unfazed and led 2-1 until the dying minutes of the game when the under-pressure referee awarded the Congolese giants a penalty.

Englebert star Pierre Kalala converted and sent the match to extra time (the away goals rule didn’t yet exist).

The following 30 minutes produced no winner, and in the confusion created by this unprecedented scenario, in addition to fans storming the pitch, the referee told both teams that the 1967 winners would be decided through a coin toss—a decision which makes the scandalous 2019 Caf CL final pale in comparison!

Caf officials decided otherwise and chose a fairer decision: a play-off game in Douala on December 27.

Not informed of Caf’s decision, the Ghanaians weren’t present for the Cameroonian decider and subsequently lost by walkover.

Another painful loss followed this great generation in 1969, when the Porcupines lost in the semi-finals to eventual winners Ismaily.

1970 was the year of redemption.

En route to the final they toppled the same Ismaily side which had prevented them from reaching the final a year before, and booked themselves a rematch against TP Englebert. Unlike the 1967 final, this time the Congolese, playing their fourth final in a row, were the favourites for the grail.

After another home draw—repeating their formbook from 1967—the Ghanaians ahead had to go and win in the lions’ den.

Enjoying a major home advantage, as well as the psychological edge (many Englebert stars had played a major role in Zaire’s 1968 Africa Cup of Nations success against a Kotoko-flavoured Ghana side), the hosts appeared to be on their way to a historic three peat.

The Ghanaians started the brighter side and quickly took the lead through Abukari Gariba, although their joy was stopped as Martin Tshinabu levelled matters in the 19th minute.

Mobutu, up in the VIP seats, was delighted, but Malik Jabir’s 80th-minute strike evaded Kazadi Mwamba to give the visitors a late lead.

Moments later, Mazembe were awarded a penalty, and a repeat of the 1967 nightmare looked like it was on the cards.

However, Robert Mensah’s antics on the goalline were enough to distract Martin Tshibanu, who, under pressure, sent his effort into the Kinshasa skies.

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In the final moments, Mensah’s heroics were enough to keep Englebert at bay, and four years of pain had ended.

The Sharpest Spikes would reach two other finals (1971 and 1973) and lose them both in dramatic fashion against two of Africa’s legendary sides, Hafia and AS Vita Club.