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Have Asante Kotoko prepared adequately for the Caf Confederation Cup?

Akonnor did not have enough time and games to work with his new squad but they know what is expected of them and will be ready to show against Sharks

After the storm that hit Ghana football in June leading to the unprecedented era of shame, following the undercover documentary which saw the game indefinitely suspended and Ghana FA president Kwesi Nyantakyi banned for life, something approaching calm seems to return especially in club football.

This weekend, Asante Kotoko will officially begin their quest to once again conquer Africa when they lock horns with Kariobangi Sharks of Kenya in the first leg of the Caf Confederation Cup first round at the Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi.

The Porcupine Warriors were expected to face a side from Cameroon in the preliminary round but they were eventually awarded a walkover victory after the Cameroonian FA failed to submit their representatives on time due to political interference. Meanwhile, Sharks were running riot during the same period as they thrashed ARTA Solar of Djibouti 9-1 on aggregate to progress.

The Kenyan side’s victory was nothing close to a fluke as they went on to defeat Gor Mahia to win the country’s Super Cup before holding AFC Leopards in a 1-1 stalemate last weekend in the opening day of the 2018-19 Kenya Premier League.

Therefore, it is clear, though, that for new Kotoko coach Charles Akonnor who took over from Paa Kwesi Fabin in October, the time for speeches and sharing of ambitions is over and the real challenge is just about to begin on Saturday. He is required to at least pick a favourable scoreline in Kenya that could give them the advantage in the return fixture back in Kumasi.

Since 2008, Kotoko have failed to make it to the group stage of the Confederation Cup and constantly suffer elimination in the initial stages against a less-fancied side including Barrack Young Controllers (Liberia), M.O Bejaia (Algeria) and recently CARA Brazzaville of Congo — something the supporters hope won’t repeat this time around.

Kotoko have had additions from the transfer market and look much better than before and the supporters’ optimism needs to be welcomed. Six of the new players including goalkeeper Muntari Tagoe, Maxwell Barko, Martin Antwi, Umar Bashiru and Abdul Ganinyu, as well as former captain Daniel Nii Adjei, who rejoined after his successful stint with T.P Mazembe, were named in the 18-man squad for the trip.

Since Akonnor took over Kotoko, he has played 11 games, won nine, lost one and shared the spoils once. Interestingly, the only game his side ended up in a defeat was the 3-0 thrashing they suffered against Ghana’s senior national team in October after the Black Stars’ 2019 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Sierra Leone was postponed by Caf following a Fifa ban.

Since then, the Porcupine Warriors have scored 33 goals, conceded five and recorded eight clean sheets as they are seeking the jump from mere contenders as always to world-beaters.

Aside Kotoko supporters declaring their readiness to cheer them on during difficult moments, the club’s owner His Royal Highness Otumfour Osei Tutu II, has also promised executive chairman Kwame Kyei not to hesitate to visit the Manhyia Palace for any financial assistance as he wants to get hold of the trophy.

“You’re fortunate to have an empire behind you. Whatever you need to help Krobea Asante Kotoko achieve success, don’t hesitate to draw my attention,” Otumfour said during the team’s last visit before their journey.

“We have always conquered the local scene since I ascended the throne but what I want to witness is winning either the Caf Champions League or Confederation Cup so let it begin from today,” he added.

In spite of the positive feelings surrounding Kotoko currently, one thing which they must guide against is chasing every single ball in Kenya. Obviously, the high altitude in the country will be a disadvantage somehow especially in the second half of the game.

“I believe Asante Kotoko must be careful with the weather conditions in Kenya before they play Kariobangi Sharks because it can be a disadvantage to them,” former Ghana captain Stephen Appiah told Abusua FM.

“When the Black Stars faced Ethiopia in the 2019 Afcon qualifiers, the players struggled throughout the second half because they couldn’t breathe properly. The weather in Kenya and Ethiopia are almost the same and it is at times terrible for visitors.

“If they train well and go into the game with a well-rehearsed plan, they can achieve a good result,” he added.

Kotoko arrived in Kenya on Wednesday after a stopover in Ethiopia and successfully held their first training session. The potential problem area in the team heading into this game is the attack, specifically the over-reliance on Burkinabe striker Songne Yacouba who has been battling fitness issues. Akonnor had hoped to sign former Inter Allies forward Victorien Adebayor to provide cover but that never materialised. With Naby Keita and Frederick Boateng around, they should be able to provide a glimmer of hope even Yacouba fails to produce one of his best moments.

Although Kotoko have had to contend with a disrupted season and lack of competitive games, all evidence suggests they are ready for another impressive campaign and can paper over old cracks in Africa.

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