Asante Kotoko and Ashantigold SC will be involved in continental battles today and tomorrow when action returns in the CAF Champions League and Confederations Cup competitions with second leg ties.
Starting today at the Obuasi Len Clay Stadium, Ashantigold will welcome Akonangui FC from Equatorial Guinea in what promises to be full of fireworks after drawing 1-1 in the first leg in the Confederations Cup.
It will be followed by what looks like a dicey encounter at the Baba Yara Sports Stadium tomorrow as Kotoko engage Kano Pillars of Nigeria.
A poor defensive display contributed to Kotoko’s 3-2 loss in the first leg clash at the Sani Abaacha Stadium in Nigeria a fortnight ago to put them in an uncomfortable ‘must-win’ situation.
With the scoring draw in the first leg, Ashantigold can scale through with a scoreless draw although a win will guarantee some comfort and put their fans in the right mood and boost their confidence.
Kotoko will, however, have to stretch every sinew to pull victory at all cost to progress to the next stage of the Champions League.
Failure to do that will see their campaign crash heavily.
This makes their task even more daunting and considering the confidence of the Nigerians, it will not be wrong to predict that Kotoko will be in a match of their lives.
Just like the Porcupine Warriors, Kano Pillars have attributed the two goals conceded in the first leg to defensive frailties which they will work on for tomorrow’s game.
Playing at an enemy territory this time and taking into consideration Kotoko’s hunger for a win, that could mean a variation in strategy which could see them beef up in the defensive areas.
With a slim goal margin to protect and the awareness of what Kotoko will throw at them, it makes sense to employ a strategy that will focus on solidifying the midfield and defensive area to make it difficult for Kotoko to penetrate.
This approach could see the physically-endowed Nigerians play with a lone striker upfront, supported by five midfielders in a typical 4-5-1 system.
Their chance in this system will be to counter-attack through areas Kotoko may have been seen to have committed more men forward in search of a goal.
Otherwise, they will remain solid at the back to thwart the efforts of the Ghanaians who would also be assured that majority of the battle will be fought in the opponents area.
The success of the anticipated Nigerian strategy will to a large extent depend on how disciplined they remain tactically.
With the aerial presence of strikers Abege and Naby Keita, Kotoko would certainly bombard the Kano Pillars area with crosses if they find it difficult penetrating the defensive wall.
In a battle of this nature, Head Coach of the team, Kjetil Zachariassen must be able to pep up his boys especially the likes of Emmanuel Gyamfi, Richard Arthur, Justice Blay, Evans Owusu and Godfried Asiamah to be on top of their game.
At the back, skipper and goalkeeper, Felix Annan will also be expected to put up an assured performance and carry out instructions to his back men to provide the needed cover.
This is because any slip that results in a Nigerian goal will leave the Asanteman representation with a tall mountain which in the end may be insurmountable and the best was to avoid such a situation will be to guard their goal territory well.
Kotoko are capable but must get their acts right because Kano Pillars have the pedigree to cause a major upset.
Unlike Kotoko, Ashantigold SC faces a relatively easy assignment and is considered huge favourites to advance to the next stage of the competition.
Similarly to Kotoko, Ashantigold must avoid conceding a goal because that could rewrite their story and rule out the advantage they hold against Akonangui FC for the second leg tie.
Back at home with the fans behind them, it will be a different atmosphere from what they experienced in the initial leg and will be buoyed by the presence of the fans.
Having produced some of the best performances at the Len Clay Stadium, today’s encounter against the Equatorial Guineans must be no exception as they push for a return to the top echelons of the continental game.
But in doing so, the ‘Miners’ must tread with caution because they will face an even more determined Akonangui side which has nothing to protect again, knowing that their backs are already against the wall.
With the score in the first leg, they are aware they need to score and they will stop at nothing to achieve that.
That is the reason the Ghanaians must be calm in the face of such an aggression and keep their feet on the pedal and maintain their focus of taking the lead again.
Shafiu Mumuni, Richard Osei Agyemang, Emmanuel Owusu, Amos Nkrumah, Mark Agyekum and Roland Amuzu were near excellent in the Equatorial Guinea encounter and will be expected to replicate that performance.
What they need now will be the tactical direction of newly signed on Brazilian Head Coach, Marco Silva who have indicated that his side was ready to go for the Jugular.
BY ANDREW NORTEY