Story: Kwame Asare Boadu
Kumasi Asante Kotoko limped badly in their penultimate group game of the CAF Confederation Cup amid protests against Beninois referee, Bonaventure Codja-Coffi, for perceived biased officiating.
Drawing 2-2 with Tunisia’s Etoile Sportive du Sahel at the Baba Yara Stadium last Saturday, Kotoko’s chances of making it to the final seemed diminished and the fans poured their anger on Codja-Coffi, who, no doubt, was an apology of a FIFA referee on the afternoon.
The referee, who denied Kotoko what appeared two clear penalties in the tension-packed match, was whisked away from the stadium in a police vehicle.
But no one could take anything away from Etoile. They proved tactically superior with their man-marking and long passing game, which confused the Kotoko back line.
Just a minute into the game Etoile’s Ghanaian striker, Sadat Bukari, rifled a shot from 20 yards, which Soulama Abdulaye pushed to corner with difficulty.
Kotoko fought fiercely to set up some classic counter-attacks, one of which presented them with a free kick near the box in the seventh minute.
Eric Bekoe fired from the spot, the ball bounced off the foot of gangling striking partner Kwabena Yaro and rolled into the net for the opener.
The elation in the half-full Baba Yara Stadium was expected, and as Kotoko poured out in search for the second goal, Jordan Opoku bungled a great chance, shooting straight to keeper Methlouhi on the 11th minute.
So much action prevailed in the middle and the close marking by the Etoile defence gave little room for Bekoe to operate at full strength
But the positive notes came from Kotoko’s right back, Samuel Inkoom, who played in a more wing role any time he charged into attack. On the 22nd minute he watched agonisingly as his long drive was parried to corner by the keeper.
A minute later, Bekoe cut inside his markers but his final connection was a fruitless venture.
Emmanuel Osei Kuffour withdrew into a more defensive midfield role as the Kotoko middle started running out of energy.
Codja-Coffi booked Kotoko’s Nii Adjei and Etoile’s Mohammed Sacko on the 25th and 27th minutes respectively for dangerous play.
The referee surprised the crowd when he ignored a hand ball in the Etoile box following a stormy action in the 34th minute and wasbooed by the crowd.
It was becoming difficult to draw any difference between the output of the two teams but it was the visiting team that nearly laughed on the 38th minute when Souhaiel Ben Radhia powered a shot off the Kotoko bar.
Kotoko never looked transformed after the break and Etoile with Nigerian striker Emeka Opara, Sadat Bukari and Awayo Tanko in frightening form, ripped through the defence to threaten at goal.
Bukari, the former Heart of Lions striker, was injured in the 49th minute but the potency of their attack, was without question as Slim Jedaied, who replaced him, brought fresh life into their game.
Coach Bashir Hayford pulled out Nii Adjei for Stephen Oduro in a bid to bring some life into the middle, while Yaro was also withdrawn for Eric Opoku on the 59th minute but it was Etoile who looked industrious upfront.
They fetched the equaliser on the 62nd minute after Jedaied robbed Ofosu Appiah in a one-on-one affair. The striker sprinted into the Kotoko area to sweep the ball past advancing Soulama and the stadium went dead silent.
Determined not to drop home points, Kotoko returned the attack and after the referee had once again denied them what looked a penalty on the 69th minute, he pointed to the spot four minutes later as Bekoe was fouled in the area.
For seven minutes, the Tunisian side protested against the referee’s decision but he stood his grounds and Bekoe stepped up to beat keeper Ayiman.
The goal could not provide the much-needed booster as Etoile soaked all the of bombardments and drove past the Kotoko defence with swift counter attacks.
Controversial referee Codja-Coffi presented Etoile with a penalty on the 79th minute when one of their players fell in the box. Mohammed Ali Nafkha converted easily.
Etoile paid the price for their crunchy tackles when Mohammed Sacko was sent off for a second booking on the 81st minute. The visiting team to delayed the game for about 10 minutes protesting.
Efforts by Kotoko to get a last gasp proved fruitless as they wasted the opportunities and when it was all over, the players fell on the turf, apparently conjecturing how tortuous the journey to the final had become.
Kotoko: Abdoulaye Soulama, Samuel Inkoom, Godfred Yeboah, Ofosu Appiah, Dan Nii Adjei/Stephen Oduro, Kwabena Yaro/Eric Opoku, Osei Kuffuor, Osei Kwame, Mark Sekyere, Jordan Opoku, Eric Bekoe.
Etoile: Ayiman Methlouhi, Ahmed Mida, Sadat Bukari/Slim Jedaied, Ammar El Jemmel, Hatem Bejaoui/Ayem Abdennaur, Souhaiel Ben Radhia, Mahammed Sacko, Emeka Opara, Mohammed Ali Nafkha, Mejdi Ben Mohammed, Awayo Tanko/Mejdi Messarati.