Story: Kwame Asare Boadu, Kumasi
COACH Bashir Hayford faces his toughest task ever in Kumasi Asante Kotoko as he is under pressure to qualify the team on Sunday and, perhaps, save his job.
Going down 0-2 in the first leg preliminary CAF Confederation Cup match against Dolphins in Calabar was somethig Kotoko least expected, and the coach has no choice but to devise a strategy that would see his side scale the hurdle at the Baba Yara Stadium in the return leg.
Hayford was full of verbal venom, pouring vituperations on the referee who handled the game in Nigeria as he spoke to radio commentators just after the match.
On Sunday the coach will not expect the centre man to do him any favour. Experienced as he is, Hayford will move to devise the strategy that will shoot down the Dolphins and advance the team to the next stage of the competition.
Despite going down, Kotoko start the match as overwhelming favourites, judging by their pedigree and especially playing at their Baba Yara fortress.
Team officials believe strongly that Dolphins is not the team to see off Kotoko in the competition, but the ability to maximise their performance will depend on the strategy Hayford will adopt on Sunday.
Some believe he was too defensive-conscious in Nigeria, and this time around a more aggressive attacking game must manifest.
Any match in which a Nigerian side is pitted against a Ghanaian counterpart has its own tension and drama, and Sunday will not be an exception.
Dolphins insisted that they had nothing to fear in Kumasi. Reports from their camp speak of massive preparations for the showdown in Kumasi, and Kotoko cannot take things for granted.
Historically, Kotoko hardly capitulate to Nigerian opposition, but times have changed and no team can be underrated in any way.
With inspirational skipper Emmanuel Osei-Kuffour, Dan Acquah and Osei Kwame Jnr out of the game on suspension, Hayford will have to reshuffle his team.
This time, Eric Bekoe will have to show more potency in his strides. Much more is expected of the striker who is the hottest striking commodity on the local scene today.
It is still not clear why the slippery Ofosu Amoah is not enjoying much playing time these days. If he were fit, he would be the best man to take over the right side of attack.
The defence to feature tried and tested players namely Samuel Inkoom, Harrison Afful and Prince Anokye, will have to be extra vigilant on Yakubu Hakim and Victor Babayaro who tormented the Kotoko rear in Calabar.
All things considered, the teeming followers of the Porcupine Warriors, and indeed the entire Ghanaian football public, expect a great performance from Kotoko who remain the only hope for the nation in continental football this year.