INCREDIBLE! A significant victory without celebration. That was the story in Kumasi last Saturday after Asante Kotoko accounted for J.S. Kabylie 3-1 in a Group B game of the CAF Confederation Cup.
The injury time goal scored by the visitors no doubt killed the anticipated victory celebration, and the facial expression of the fans summed up their disappointment.
With great efficiency, Kotoko steamrolled their way into a commanding three-goal lead, but complacency seemed to have eaten deep into the team in the dying minutes, allowing Taeib Maroci to reduce the deficit with a header just before Gambian referee John Mendy ended proceedings.
Striking sensation, Eric Bekoe, scored a double to bring his tally in the competition to nine, while Jordan Opoku fetched the other goal. In spite of the fans' disappointment, Kotoko were by no means superb on the afternoon, playing the typical short passing game interspersed with long-penetrating balls to confuse their opponents.
Starting this time with crowd favourites, Stephen Oduro and Kwadwo Poku, Kotoko began confidently, charging at their opponents.
But disaster nearly struck the home side when a dangerous back pass from Prince Anokye almost beat his keeper Abdoulai Soulama, on the 12th minute.
Kotoko's midfield control manifested early as Jordan Opoku and Oduro eclipsed Nacim Dehouche and Lyes Boukria, and sprayed passes to Eric Bekoe, Kwadwo Poku and Emmanuel Osei Kuffour.
The diminutive Oduro, arguably the man of the match, tested keeper Chaouchi Faouzi with a close effort on the 24th minute but the tall goaltender was up to the task.
By the half hour mark, JKS were surprisingly exhibiting tiredness and resorted to crunchy tackles to keep the marauding Kotoko attack at bay. Two of their players were booked as a result.
Bekoe put Kotoko in front after 39 minutes, beating the offside-minded JSK defence to chip one past Faouzi, the ball rolling gently into the yawning net. The striker ran to the corner flag to celebrate the opener and the stadium went charged, with the fans calling for more goals.
Kotoko's plan of initiating attacks from the wings with Inkoom and Poku as the principal architects confused JSK, and Faouzi in post had difficulty dealing with the flying balls.
So much difficulty confronted JSK setting up attacks, and their front-runners, Ouznadji and Bachir, were left in fruitless adventure.
Mark Sekyere was booked in the 49th minute for rough play, and seven minutes later Soulama fumbled with a long ball, but he rose quickly to save the situation. The pressure on the visitors was so huge, and their defence caved in once again on the 62nd minute as Bekoe, unselfishly, placed the ball in the path of Jordan to finish off.
Anytime JSK tried to hold their own by attacking on the right, Inkoom was around to thwart their efforts and initiate swift counterattacks. Playing with precision, the Porcupine Warriors charged in every minute and JSK were in all sorts of trouble.
A third goal looked imminent and it did arrive on the 71st minute. Inkoom took off in blistering fashion on the right to meet a long pass and raced into the box to deliver a shot. The keeper failed to grab it first time and the hungry Bekoe preyed on the rebound.
When all looked like a 3-0 victory for the home side, complacency set in and Maroci rose to head in a cross with the game almost ended.