(A GNA review by Veronica Commey)
Accra, March 23, GNA - Accra Hearts of Oak might have scaled the first hurdle when they defeated Stade de Malien FC of Mali 2-0 at the Accra Sports Stadium last Sunday, but they will be the first to reckon that but for luck, the story could have been different on the day. It is definitely not by accident that vociferous fans from the Phobian fraternity had very little to cheer about after the match judging from the performance of the boys.
Obviously, many have argued that coach Ernst Middendorp from time immemorial had placed little or if not, no emphasis on beautiful football but that of achieving results and which if is the case must satisfy the German.
It however remains an undisputed fact that the coach and his boys have a long way to go in their quest to make any impact in the competition. For the perpetual optimists who argue that the 2000 champions started on a low note in that year but progressed with aggression to sweep all that was meant to be won in that year, it is important to acknowledge that the game is gradually changing and that holding on to fate alone cannot conjure the needed results.
Critical and objectives minds will realise that it was glaring that the Phobians' midfield was none existing throughout the game which enabled their opponents to dictate the pace of the game.
For debutantes as Eric Nyarko and Frank Kornu, it could easily tell on them that the duo needed exactly more than youthful exuberance, strength and optimism to gel at the engine from where their opponents won most of the 50-50 balls.
Whilst Emmanuel Osei Kuffour exhibited lack of stamina at some stages which saw him rather waiting for every ball before initiating a move plus over elaboration, for the 'orchestra-like player' Lawrence Adjah Tetteh, it was another afternoon of ball ballooning among others as well as unpardonable mistakes.
It was surprising that on that day, the players could not realise that such moves will automatically put them under pressure as they gave their more agile opponents equal opportunities of winning the contest for the balls.
The mid-fielders choice of ballooning every ball instead of controlling and failure to properly watch the movement of their attackers before distribution must be a major concern to the German tactician.
For those of us who were made to believe that the bias officiating meted out to the Phobians in Mali as every move was flagged offside, on the contrary it was evident on Sunday that the team's problem was overly bigger than the behaviour of the referee alone in Bamako as it can also be attributed to a midfield deficiency as well.
Some supporters who spoke to the GNA Sports conceded that the team played without a distributor and created chances but failing to utilise them and which apparently manifested in the number of times they were caught in the off-side trap as they botched to search for opponents to even send fruitful passes upfront.
There was no clear cut line as to whether the team wanted to operate through the middle or the flanks as it seemed their ambition was rather to float every ball without necessarily looking into spaces for proper ball distribution.
The comedy of errors exhibited by the Ablade Morgan's led attack could quickly be attributed to anxiety, thereby making it difficult for one to comprehend why a team like Hearts, knowing the stakes of the game could not be psyched up enough to play above such apparent anxiety which saw them missing unpardonable chances.
I believe the team has no excuse for the missed chances as one can not afford to let issues like anxiety to take the better part of such an important event, when indeed a lot more ought to be done to be successful in competitions of this magnitude.
Of course, the Phobians had every good reason not to hang unto the balls as almost all the attackers did, since most of the shots could have gotten well on target from afar, rather than their zeal to walk the ball into the net in most cases.
The likes of Bernard Don Bortey and Morgan did not help matters for playing like Abdul Samed, in his maiden continental assignment with their ball distribution as they kept on passing the balls at the wrong time, dribbling unnecessarily and shooting as though they were not properly focused for the encounter.
Middendorp should be content in goalkeeper Sammy Adjei who made only one costly mistake in the duration of the game and has enough reason to give his defensive team pivoted around yeoman Dan Quaye a pat on the back for a good work done at the rear.
However, none need be reminded that over-lapping to either join the middle or the attack and quickly recovering back to defend could be expensive and dangerous against teams with speed spiced with the flair for counter attacks.
Though Daniel Coleman, Kwabena Boafo, Acquah Harrison and later Louis Agyemang did enough to keep their vital areas intact, their ability to recover on time and tidy up in stiffer oppositions remained quiet suspect and doubtful.
Their occasional crunchy tackles at the back also left little to be desired though their effort to complement the leaking middle after the recess must be commended.
Keeper Adjei, on the other hand need to be reminded to learn how to initiate quick counter attacks after making impressive saves. After all, the Kahns, Lehmans, Didas and Casilas sense of initiating such attacks have contributed to the successful performance of their teams in tough encounters.
All said and done, Hearts have the opportunity to move past the Aviacao threat with caution and precision and no wonder followers of the team received such good news at a time that they could even win whilst playing this bad.
Indications are that with the right strategy coupled with right attitude, the Hearts team can progress like the Mali national team did in this year's African Cup of Nations hosted and won by Tunisia.