Hearts, Kotoko take local rivalry to a new level
Pride, a piece of African soccer history as well as some good cash will be at stake when Ghana's Accra Hearts of oak and Asante Kotoko take their age-old rivalry to a higher ground and do battle in the first leg final of the inaugural Confederation Cup on Sunday.
Hearts host the first encounter and a week later Kotoko will take on their local rivals in front of their own fans at the Kumasi Sports Stadium.
The all -Ghana Confederation Cup final was postponed till the new year following fears that the fierce rivalry between Ghana 's two most successful clubs could boil over onto the streets as presidential elections were going on about that time too.
Kotoko, or 'The Porcupine Warriors', topped Group A of the Confederation Cup with ten points from six matches to reach the championship game while Hearts recorded 13 points to emerge over all winners of Group B.
Both teams have already tasted African soccer glory – Hearts won the 2000 CAF Champions League and the 2001 Super Cup while Kotoko annexed the African Champions Cup twice, in 1970 and 1983.
“I have what it takes to beat Kotoko and win the trophy,” boasted Hearts coach Cecil Jones Attuquayefio, who is back in charge of 'The Phobians', who he had led to win the Champions League four years ago.
As part of their build-up to this epic clash, Hearts trained in Togo where they played tune-up games against top local teams.
Their top scorers in the group phase of the tournament were Bernard Don Bortey and Prince Tagoe with three goals each and despite changes of coaches mid-way through their campaign, they were able to hold their own against the likes of top Cameroonian clubs Cotonsport and Sable d'Batie.
Hearts will parade the likes of Acquah Harrison, goalkeeper Saanie Mohammed, Louis Agyeman and Eric Nyarko.
Kotoko, on the other hand, are handled by German coach Hans Dieter Schmidt, who has described his team's qualification to the Confederation Cup final as “one of the finest moments of my career”.
Kotoko have preferred to train at home for the final and officials say they expect star midfielder Charles Taylor, who also once played for Hearts, to join the team from his new Qatari club Al Khaleej.
Striker Nana Arhin-Duah, for one, has battled injuries and the loss of a child as well as his wife in recent times and has said he wishes to put his personal travails behind him so as to help Kotoko land the Confederation Cup.
“This year has been bad but 2005 is my year and I know God is with me. My colleagues and I will have to sacrifice Hearts in the New Year to erase our bitter days in 2004,” said Arhin-Duah, who scored one of his team's three goals in the all -important final Group A clash against Al-Hilal of Sudan to help his team beat Nigeria's Enugu Rangers to the ticket to the cup final.
Teammate Daniel Yeboah has also expressed confidence of a Kotoko victory against their rivals.
“We have unfinished business with Hearts and we will not be fulfilled till we have beaten them to the cup and begin the new year on a winning note,” he said.
Kotoko's key players include international goalkeeper George Owu, Joe Hendricks and midfielder William Tiero.
This year the Confederation Cup replaced both the African Cup Winners and CAF Cups and the winner of the maiden edition is guaranteed a prize money of 300,000 US dollars.