Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Kotoko begin seasonal haul...IT'S SWAG CUP NO. 11 (GRAPHIC SPORTS, LEAD STORY)

Story: Kwame Asare Boadu, Kumasi

AFTER solidifying their place in history last Sunday with the eleventh SWAG Cup, Kumasi Asante Kotoko have strengthened their resolve to achieve the double this season.
A massive performance so far in the domestic premiership, and the CAF Confederations Cup in which they play away to Nigeria’s Dolphins FC in a preliminary game this weekend, give testimony to a team with strength in depth and ready to sweep past every opponent.
Bouncing back from a 29th minute leader by Ashanti Gold to win 2-1 last Sunday at Baba Yara Stadium, further powerfully carried Kotoko’s message that they will never allow any team, not even fiercest rivals, Hearts of Oak, to come close to their winning streak in the prestigious SWAG Cup.
Kotoko are drawing on a wealth of talent to prosecute their agenda locally and in Africa but Dolphins could be a big stumbling block if underrated.
To conserve their stature as favourites for qualification for the next stage of the Confederations Cup, the Porcupine Warriors will have to go for a good result against Dolphins in Nigeria as they did against another Nigerian side, Wikki Tourists with whom they drew 2-2 in Bauchi.
Coach Bashir Hayford said of the team after last Sunday victory over Ashgold: “ I am proud of this team”.
“They played to instructions especially in the second half and we deservedly won the match”, Hayford said.
The coach was stating the reality. Even though they had problems in the initial stages of the game, Kotoko were superior in the second part of the match in which they attacked in droves.
But Ashgold coach, Mohammed Gargo who complained about the strange decisions by referee William Agbovi against his side in the match, was less impressed with the way the Kotoko attack failed to convert some good chances that came their way in the second half.
For a side that is so bent on making it big in Africa, Kotoko could take something from Gargo and devise the right strategies to advance their campaign in Africa.
SWAG president, Mr Ackah Anthony, was impressed with the high standard of play exhibited by Asante Kotoko and Ashanti Gold at the Baba Yara Stadium last Sunday.
“For me it was one the best games witnessed in the SWAG Cup in its long history and it is good for the national game”, he said.
“Our only concern was the unimpressive attendance”, the SWAG president added.
The 40, 231, capacity stadium was just about one-third full in spite of the huge publicity given the match.
In spite of the high standard of football displayed, it was the victors, Asante Kotoko, who had something to cheer about having exorcised the ghost that had haunted them in SWAG cup matches against Ashgold.
Skipper Emmanuel Osei Kuffour and his colleagues beamed with smiles when the regional minister for Ashanti, Mr Emmanuel Owusu-Ansah, presented the cup to him.
While Ashgold complained bitterly about the penalty awarded Kotoko just before half time, Kotoko also had a beef with the referee when he ignored what they thought was a penalty for them in the second half.
The Ashgold attack, anchored by the workaholic Alex Asamoah, looked threatening in the first half but faded out a bit in the second half, when the striker started running out of breath after having some rough time with Richard Manu in the heart of the Kotoko defence.
Full of confidence, Ashgold were in full gear in the first half, no wonder they shot into the lead after 29 minutes.
Kotoko missed the striking services of Eric Bekoe but he will be fit for the Africa game against Dolphins.

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