IT looked so scary, but Kumasi Asante Kotoko lived up to prediction, putting their feet on the winning podium to book a place in the lucrative group stage of the CAF Confederation Cup when they beat Al-Ittihad at the Baba Yara Stadium in Kumasi yesterday.
Kotoko who had to do without three players — Osei Kuffuor, Samuel Inkoom and Harrison Afful — for various reasons swept past an improved Al-Ittihad 3-1 (4-3 aggregate) to enter the group stage for the second time.
Generally there was little to celebrate with respect to skills and talent, but the goals made the difference.
Kotoko turned on the style right after kick-off with the left-footed Francis Coffie coming up with a brilliant individual effort, but unfortunately missed target. It looked like Kotoko were in control of the game as they drifted to the left wing where Coffie was in terrific shape and created openings in the Al-Ittihad half.
But just as the visiting team moved to maintain a strong presence in the middle department, leading scorer, Eric Bekoe, fired Kotoko ahead with an exquisite strike after 10 minutes.
The striker pounced on a long pass, and on seeing brilliant keeper Samir Abbud closing in on him, he cleverly swept the ball through a small opening into the near post.
Responding with long balls their tall strikers, Mohammed Zobya threatened with a piercing header which Burkinabe international goalkeeper, Soulama Abdulai, pushed to corner.
Zobya's effort signalled the determination of the visitors to cause an upset in Kumasi, and they controlled well on the pitch made slippery by an earlier downpour.
The Kotoko back line of Godfred Yeboah, George Asare, Osei Kwame and Prince Anokye kept surveillance on Zobya, Walis and Riyad who kept threatening. Fast-improving midfielder, Jordan Opoku, who oiled the Kotoko middle with sheer speed and body swerves, was unlucky as his effort in the 29th minute hit the post after keeper Abbud had made a fruitless attempt to grab the ball.
Two substitutions by the Libyan side in the 40th and 53rd minutes improved life in their game as Pierre Koulibaly and Ahmed Zuway, who came on for Djam and Zobya respectively, showed form.
Fifty-four minutes into the game, Al-Ittihad managed to put the ball into the net but Tunisian referee Tralousi Abuaz overruled the goal as assistant referee Malouki flagged Walis offside. They protested fiercely, claiming it was a perfect goal but the referee stuck to his guns.
When Kotoko were finding it difficult to create the necessary openings, the workaholic Jordan Opoku doubled the scores for Kotoko on the 62nd minute with a cracking grounder from some 20 yards out.
Undaunted, Al-Ittihad probed for a goal but keeper Soulama stopped every ball until the 80th minute when Koulibaly found some space past him after slipping through a host of opponents to nod home.
Kotoko appeared to lack the pace and attacking bite to open up the Libyan defence but a stormy attack on 87th minute saw an Ittihad player handling the ball in the box for a penalty and Bekoe stepped forward to beat the agile keeper Abbud for the winner.
Kotoko: Soulama Abdulai, Godfred Yeboah, George Asare, Osei Kwame, Prince Anokye, Nii Adjei, Francis Akwaffo/Stephen Oduro, Jordan Opoku, Eric Bekoe, Kwabena Yaro/Ofosu Amoah, Francis Coffie/Isaac Anderson.
Al-Ittihad: Samir Abbud, Mahmoud Sharfer, Hashan/Yohan Shaban, Osama Hammdi, Djam Roland/Koulibaly, Mohamed Esnai, Walis, Riyad Allafi, Arafa Alkuaa, Mohammed Zobya/Zuway.