Coach Kjetil Zachariassen and his charges are on the verge of writing a bit of history as they go into this afternoon’s CAF Champions League return fixture against Etoile Sportive du Sahel. Kotoko beat Etoile 2-0 in the first encounter at the Baba Yara Stadium exactly two weeks ago.
If the Tunisian side are eliminated tonight, it will end Kotoko’s 13-year wait for a group stage appearance in the continent’s biggest inter-club competition. So much has happened since 2006 when the late Coach E. K. Afranie led Kotoko to the group stage. All attempts since then either ended in the first or second preliminary round.
With the 2-0 win at home in the first leg fixture, expectations are that, Kotoko will counter any opposition they will face tonight to protect their lead from Kumasi to book the qualification ticket. Since beating the experienced Tunisian side, the Porcupines have been up to serious work. Even on the day of their departure from Kumasi to Accra, and later to Morocco and subsequently to Tunisia, Coach Zachariassen gave the players no rest.
They trained in the morning before heading to Accra. They left for Morocco and transited to Tunisia. They have since been in Monastir. They have had two training sessions after their arrival. Kotoko’s resolve is one: to grab the qualification ticket to the group stage. The players have psyched themselves appropriately for anything Etoile will throw at up in today’s encounter.
The Porcupines will not be intimidated by rough tactics aimed at disarming them. Kotoko are ready for the clash and until we achieve our objective of qualifying, there will be no surrender. Midfielder, Justice Blay and centre back, Agyeman Badu echo this point. “We will cope with what whatever we will see in Tunisia… We passed the first leg test and hopefully, we will pass the test on Sunday. There is resilience in us and that is very good” said Blay.
“We don’t feel nervous. We are already in the lead with two goals and the plan will be to protect those goals but that’s not to say we are going there with a defensive mentality. We will stick with the coach’s plan. We are confident [of qualification]” Badu assured.
Thus, on Sunday at 4pm (GMT), Coach Zachariassen will choose from the following list of players to ultimately ensure that, qualification to the group stage is secured. Goalkeepers – Felix Annan and Osei Kwame; defenders – Empem Dacosta, Evans Owusu, Patrick Yeboah, Habib Mohammed and Agyemang Badu. Midfielders – Justice Blay, Kelvin Andoh, Samuel Frimpong, Augustine Okrah, Emmanuel Gyamfi, Alexis Didi, Godfred Asiamah and Jordan Opoku. The attack has Naby Keita, Richard Arthur and George Abege.
No matter the test these players will face, the expectation is that, the Porcupines will eventually be one of the teams for the 2019/20 CAF Champions League. The team must neither quaver nor crumble under pressure. They have to guard against grave errors particularly in defence and utilise their chances no matter how small. If they do this and bias officiating is ruled out, the objective getting to the group stage will be achieved tonight.