Accra Hearts of Oak's indomitable character and hunger for continental glory will be put to test on Sunday when they host Cameroun's Sable de Batie in a make-or-break affair in the CAF Confederation Cup competition. With their fortunes tied to the outcome of Sunday's game, Hearts players must stand up and be counted.
In far away Luanda, Asante Kotoko face an equally challenging task against Petro Atletico in a Group A encounter of the Confederation Cup. Kotoko struggled to beat Petro 2-1 in Kumasi last month, and this weekend they must dig even deeper to find the right form to hold their own in the southern African country.
The outcome of Sunday's game at the Accra stadium will, to a large extent, either return Hearts into contention or leave them making up the number in Group B. A 0-2 loss to Sable in Douala last month jolted the Phobians' smooth run left the them slipping into third place behind Cameroun's Cotonsport Garoua and Sable.
Sunday's match couldn't have come at a worse time, as Hearts have struggled in recent matches to recapture their top form. A 1-1 draw with Sekondi Hasaacas in Accra last Wednesday served as a timely reminder that all might not be well with them. In fact, the red flags began flying just days before their away loss to Sable, after Real Sportive forced a bitter pill down their throat with a 2-1 defeat.
Expectedly, pressure is beginning to mount on head coach Cecil Jones Attuquayefio whose return has not seen a dramatic change in fortunes for the Phobians.Attuquayefio, who led the club to continental victory in 2000, told the Graphic Sports in an interview that he was not receiving maximum co-operation from his players, some of whom he accused of becoming "politicians" in the team.
The usually impatient Hearts followers would not be ready to accommodate any excuses in the unlikely event that the club fails to achieve the right result on Sunday. The Attuquayefio-led technical team must therefore find a quick-fix solution to the team's declining form to exact revenge on Sable.
Even though Hearts captain Amankwaah Mireku and his team-mates are in a confident mood and fired up for revenge, Attuquayefio is growing worried about his team's lack of attacking sharpness. In the last month, Hearts have struggled to score more than a goal in a match, and more worrying is the fact that strikers Emmanuel Osei Kuffour, Louis Agyemang and Prince Tagoe are firing blank in front of their opponents' goal post.
Diminutive Wisdom Abbey seems to have rediscovered his scoring form but is not part of the continental squad, leaving Hearts with no other scoring options but hope that Kuffour and his striking partners end their goal drought. In Douala, Sable looked a very formidable side that took advantage of their few scoring chances.
They may not be favourites in Accra, but it would be foolhardy for Hearts to write them off. The Cameroun side are very physical and possesses sharp attacks such as Serge Emelau and Mathias Nlend who rely on fast breaks and can be a mouthful on a good day for most defences.
Although they lost 0-1 away to South Africa's Santos, Sable have been good away performers in the run-up to the group stage of the competition, drawing 1-1 with USM of Gabon and beating Leopards Transfoot of Madagascar 2-1. Hearts are favoured to win to restore their championship ambitions, but in order to achieve that ambition, they must seize every scoring opportunity, and also be very accurate in order to call the bluff of Sable's agile goalkeeper, Martin Ashu, who denied them a goal in Douala.
Kotoko's last trip away ended in disaster as they lost 0-2 to Al Hilal of Sudan. On Sunday they should expect no favours from third-placed Petro who need a win in order to revive their hopes of survival.