TODAY IN FOOTBALL HISTORY... Asante Kotoko Won Its First CAF Champions League
ON THIS DAY 1971, Kumasi Asante Kotoko won Ghana's first African Clubs Championship (now CAF Champions League).
It should be recalled that although the final was played in January 1971, it was a 1970 championship
The fearful Porcupines from the soccer-crazy Kumasi, after labouring for years, finally had their hands on the coveted trophy, beating sworn rivals TP Englebert of Zaire, now DR Congo.
Kotoko had appeared in the finals and lost to the same side two years earlier through a questionable toss of coin decision.
In this final, Englebert had drawn 1-1 with Kotoko in Kumasi two weeks before the memorable second leg in Kinshasa, and all odds were against the Ghanaian giants going into the second leg.
The game was at the gigantic Reverend Tata Raphael stadium in Kinshasa, in front of the then Head of State of Zaire, Mobutu Seseko. The extravagant president had promised houses and other gifts for his Englebert players if they beat Kotoko for the title. Mobutu supported by donating his own Gulfstream Jet to the team for their first leg trip to Kumasi.
On Sunday 24th January, Tata Raphael was full of over 50,000 fans by 10 am, five hours into the game. But Kotoko had other ideas.
Ben Koufie who was assistant to Aggry Fyn, narrates that, when Kotoko came out from the dressing room unto the pitch for the warm-up, two players nearly broke down from tension. This forced the technical team to make forced changes to the line-up.
Despite the boos Kotoko players suffered, one player mustered the courage, ran across the field to stand in front of the TP Englebert crowd and started teasing them. He was full of smiles and confidence. He was goalkeeper Robert Mensah.
Kotoko paraded a very splendid attack and a solid defence.
Two minutes after kickoff, Englebert struck a shot, and for a moment, everyone thought that was in but was parried over the bar by goalkeeper Mensah.
As early as the 12th minute, striker Abukari Gariba put Kotoko ahead but the celebration didn't last long enough before left winger Tshinabu put Englebert on level pegging in the 19th minute.
Now on 2-2 aggregate, there was too much tension for Mazembe to deal, with Kotoko piling pressure on the home side. Malik Jabir, who was in his high element on the day, struck a low grounder to beat Joel Kazadi in the post for Englebert in the 80th minute. Game over? NO.
On the stroke of full time, the referee awarded what appeared to be a dubious penalty to the home team but Kotoko players vehemently protested and decided to abandon the game. Whiles, they begin to walk off the field, Robert Mensah calms everyone down promising to stop the penalty.
Englebert danger man, Kalala Mukendi, apparently scared by the antics of the dancing Robert Mensah, blew the ball over the bar, plunging the whole Zaire into days of mourning. Reports say a furious Mobutu threatened to let the Zaire army flog the Englebert players, describing them as "pampered fools".
The enraged fans wanted to attack the Kotoko players but Mobutu warned the defence minister that if anything happened to a single Ghanaian, he would be held responsible.
The Kotoko team flew out of Zaire that very night upon the instruction of Otumfour Opoku Ware II, who sent his personal aides, chefs and security to accompany the team.
News of Kotoko's victory broke in Ghana the following morning after a telegram was relayed to the military government in Ghana.
The then GFA Chairman, Henry Djaba, in a congratulatory message, said: “Ghana football will once again be on the ascendency internationally if clubs will emulate the shining example set by Kotoko.”
Hearts of Oak’s secretary Steele Dadzie said: “On behalf of the entire Hearts of Oak team please accept my warmest congratulations for your outstanding performance in African clubs soccer Championship.”
The trophy was presented to the Otumfuo Opoku Ware II, the owner of the club at the time, at the Manhyia Palace after arriving in Ghana and for weeks, Kumasi was in a festival mood.
Because Kotoko had won Ghana's first CAF Champions League title. All the players were heroes.
On the photo Kotoko's Oliver Acquah (in white) in an aerial duel with deadly striker Kalala mukendi of Englebert