Preview: Vengeance On Hearts’ Mind
The Accra Stadium will roar to thunderous chants brought on by to international football this weekend when city rivals, Hearts of Oak and Liberty Professionals, stay home to Tunisian opponents in their respective continental games.
Accra Hearts of Oak's Coach Ernst Middendorp summoned his players to camp immediately after Jones Attuquayefio's Squirrels of Benin pinched them 4-2 in an international friendly at El-Wak last Sunday.
But in preparing the team for Sunday's CAF Champions League first leg game against Tunisia's Etoile du Sahel in Accra, the coach harbours firm hopes of a better result as he welcomes Bernard Dong Bortey and Lawrence Adjei back into his line-up.
Bortey is expected to return from trials with Israel's Hapoel Tel Aviv today, while Lawrence has virtually recovered from a finger injury he sustained in Black Stars' game against Angola last month.
Added to the total recovery of key defender, Dan Coleman, who remained a pillar against the Squirrels, Coach Middendorp's team tackles Etoile du Sahel with full strength in a game that has handed Hearts another of their old foes in this year's competition.
The Tunisian side was one of many that breathed pain into Hearts when they made sure that continental glory eluded the Ghanaian side till 2000 arrived.In 1997, Etoile humbled Hearts 6-3 after a second leg 4-1 drubbing in Sousse in the then Cup Winners Cup competition, and forced a two-leg 4-4 tie with Hearts that ensured that Hearts fell short of goal scored as they chased a final berth in the 1998 edition of the Champions League.
Fate has already handed Hearts sweet revenge over Stade Malien and AS Aviacao on their way to this stage, and another over Etoile would confine to the realm of history some queer reasons attributed in certain quarters to the club's inability to enter the money zone since winning the trophy four years ago.
Coach Middendorp will still rely on Emmanuel Osei Kuffour and Louis Agyemang upfront on Sunday to achieve a cushioning result that will reflect positively on the second leg.At least reassuring words from Administrative Manager, Ashford Tetty Oku, to the effect that Sunday's game will be a treat for fans only echoes his conviction that “even if we score a million we need not concede a single goal in Accra”.
Liberty's game against Stade Tunisian on Saturday is of great importance to Coach Sellas Tetteh who relishes a berth in the last eight of the Confederations Cup in their maiden attempt.When his team spanked Angola side, Petro Huambo 5-1 in Accra last month, the Liberty coach played down the importance of that victory, as he focused ahead.
“Petro (Huambo) is no more and we are looking ahead. That is what is important now,” he said after that vintage performance in Accra.That time arrives on Saturday when Stade descend to face the team that romped home four goals in 31 minutes against the Angolan side to reach this stage.
Coach Tetteh's team has relied on collective play, but the emergence of Osei Akoto has given a remarkable sparkle to the side that has shown little respect to all oppositions.
The presence of Michael Helegbe in particular is a booster, while Felix Baffoe, David Boateng, Issifu Ansah and Mustapha Essuman provide further options for another cricket score that could render the return encounter a mere academic exercise.