Hearts move into next stage of Championship league
Accra Hearts of Oak moved into the next phase of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) Champions League Tournament after they defeated Stade de Malien of Mali 2-0 in their return encounter played at the Accra Sports Stadium on Sunday. Hearts have thus gone through on a 2-0 aggregate after the first encounter played in Mali two weeks ago ended goalless. The encounter a revenge match for the Phobians, as they were eliminated two years ago from the same competition by the Malian side after the first leg had ended one all at Accra for the Malians to eliminate Hearts after a 3-1 win in Bamako. The huge crowd that thronged the stadium in anticipation of a massacre of the visitors judging from the newfound confidence of the Phobians after the arrival of their German expatriate coach, Ernst Middendorp left somewhat in a bitter sweet mood as the Malians gave the homesters a good fight. This is because even though Hearts won, they would be the first to admit that they had been in a match of their lives with the Malians playing a well-rehearsed game and dominating the middle, which occasionally drew applause from the partisan home crowd. Hearts against the expectation of their supporters started the game on the back foot as the Malians took the game to them creating some anxious moments for the Phobian defence who managed to withstand the test. With Hearts needing to win at least by a goal to move to the next stage, however lifted their game in a notch and in the sixth minute nearly took the lead when a glancing header from skipper Osei Kuffour missed the goalpost narrowly. After the first opening chance, Hearts had another break in the 11th minute when Kuffour again broke from the left flank and laid the ball unto the path of Bernard Don Bortey, but the striker who appeared out of sauce through out the match over elaborated allowing Stade's goalkeeper Abdul Rashid to pluck the ball off his feet on the second attempt. As the Malians started coming into the game after the two scary moves, they were stunned in the 17th minute when Hearts took the lead through a simple tap into the roof of the net after Lawrence Adjei's cross had exposed the opponents defence. But the anticipated goal harvest did not materialise as the Malians regained their composure in the middle and operated well on the right flank where slippery Koubali Drissa gave Acquah Harrison a tough time resulting in the defender being substituted during the break. Even though the Malian dominated in the middle they could not translate their dominance into attack allowing the Phobians who played on the break to create the scoring chance as it happened in the 27th minute, when a Kuffour header saw Rashid in post in a full stretch to prevent the second goal. Bortey came close to getting the second goal in the 37th minute when his chip over advancing Rashid was cleared from the goal line by Toure Braimah. From the break, the Malians opened up immediately and in the 46th minute, a cross from Drissa found unmarked Alan Claude in the box but the striker fluffed the chance. The home team then pushed up their defence to crowd out the midfield in an attempt to break the Malian strangle hold and succeeded in their attempt as in the 50th minute they stringed some neat passes from the middle and carved open the Malian defence but Kuffour strangely decided to go for the elaborate resulting in the Malian goalie robbing him off the ball. In the 72nd minute, Hearts were given an opportunity to ease the nerves of their teeming fans when referee Kanon Dennis Yao from Ivory Coast awarded them a penalty after Bortey was impeded in the box. Bortey who had a bad day elected himself to take the kick but found his effort pushed to touch by the Malian goalkeeper. With the reality dawning on the Hearts players that a goal in the dying minutes by the Malians would mark the end of their Champions League dream, they put up a spirited last minute fight and had another penalty in the 83rd minute when a hard pressed Malian defender handled the ball in the box. Hearts dependable defender, Dan Quaye elected himself to take the second penalty kick and he beautifully did so to secure the second goal for his sides to the relieve of the huge support. With the game drawing to a close, the Malians were forced to play with 10 men from the 86th minute when keeper Rashid fainted and had to be rushed to the hospital at a time when the Malian had exhausted their substitution. Substitute Kone Iddrissa had to go into the post but Hearts failed to capitalise on their numerical advantage to increase the score.