Kumasi Asante Kotoko's quest to be the first side to win the Confederations Cup faces a severe test at the Kumasi Stadium on Sunday when they confront Enugu Rangers International in a Group A match.A fierce battle akin to Black Stars/ Super Eagles clashes is anticipated as the two West African sides attempt to undo each other.
The potentially explosive match could be a yardstick for Asante Kotoko to assess their chances in the competition, taking cognizance of the pedigree of the Nigerians. Once winners of the Africa Cup Winners Cup, and runners up in the African Champions Clubs competition, Rangers who are currently placed fourth in the ongoing Nigerian league could be poisonous when taken lightly.
Kotoko's progression to this stage of the competition has been a sweet and sour affair. They dropped out of the more prestigious Champions League before staging a stupendous performance in Kumasi and Casablanca to edge out Wydad Casablanca.The enthusiasm of the players has sky-rocketed after that great show against WAC, and it will be interesting to see how they translate this into the game against Rangers.
Coach Hans Dieter Schmidt seemed to have worked hard on the fitness of the players as typified in recent outings. They now play with tremendous power, especially at the back, where Michael Asante is a rock. His partnership with Hendricks, Issah Ahmed and Godfred Yeboah looks great for Kotoko.
Against the Togolese national team last Sunday, Kotoko 's attack poured out and gave their fans a glimmer of hope for the showdown with Rangers when they put three goals past the Togolese goalie.The Nigerians have an outstanding team in players like Toyin Lawal, Uzoma Uche, Uche Okereke and Enyiaku Okechukwu.
If Kotoko's midfield, so often their strongest element, could maintain the fluidity and craft, the pressure will be on the Nigerians, and a sharp attack of Arhin Duah and Shilla Alhassan could have a great afternoon.
When King Faisal beat Hearts of Oak 1-0 in Kumasi last Sunday, the GOC fund raising game stirred an appropriate awakening in the camp of the former continental champions as they begin their Confederation Cup league against Santos of South Africa on Saturday, previews Michael Quaye.
A similar defeat by Faisal in the first leg in Accra preceded what would become a vintage away performance against Senegal's AS Doaunes in Rufisque, and last Sunday's defeat, unpalatable as it seemed, might well be the tonic for Hearts' opening league game at home.
Amidst the high expectations, however, Hearts confront the Santos challenge with some uncertainty hanging over the helmsmanship of their technical affairs as negotiations with former African best coach, Jones Attuquayefio, is yet to be finalised.
That notwithstanding, Hearts still possess the squad that defied the odds to hold off the challenge of Douanes in Senegal over a week ago.Dan Quaye, skipper Amankwah Mireku, Emmanuel Osei Kuffour, Adjah Tetteh, Lawrence Adjei, Louis Agyemang, Acquaah Harrison and Prince Tagoe will be joined by Dan Coleman before Saturday.
Santos' visit to Accra comes after two previous ones that handed them mixed fate in similar continental adventures. In 2002, they were kicked out of the then Cup Winners Cup by Asante Kotoko, but returned this year to topple King Faisal from the Confederation Cup after holding them 1-1 in Kumasi.
In the heat of Coach Ernst Middendorp's imminent departure from Hearts, the South African side was rumoured as one of the possible beneficiaries of the German's technical acumen, and with both sides losing out on him the battle has been confined to brains other than Middendorp's.