Captain Amos Frimpong was the shootout hero for Asante Kotoko in the mammoth NC special competition tier 1 semifinal encounter between the two bitterest rivals, Hearts and Kotoko and in the process firing the Kumasi based side into the final.
In what was a generally pulsating sold out encounter at the Accra Sports Stadium, Kotoko came up tops in the shootouts after the two sides were unable to be separated after regulation time and judging by how proceedings panned out, it would really have been a shame had the game not gone ahead as initially feared as the two most glamorous clubs served up an unforgettable encounter for all and sundry.
The build up to the game was marred by controversies and such polemics concerning match venue, gate proceeds and what not but football always wins and it did again at the Accra Sports Stadium as the two rivals showed that our football can be salvaged after all.
The game kick-started in such a fashion you would expect as players slowly began warming themselves into proceedings with Hearts particularly beginning to bring their passing game to the fore only for them to be stunned with Kotoko”s first real move in the game.
Hearts lost possession midfield and the ball fell to Abdul Fatawu Safiu who immediately located strike partner Naby Keita just at the right edge of the Hearts box who would in turn provide a really delightful back heel for the onrushing Safiu to pounce home the opener for Kotoko in what was a really delectable team move.
With the heart of the Hearts defence comprising Robert Addo Sowah and Mohammed Alhassan caught napping, Safiu took advantage to fire in his ninth goal in the competition and in the process get Kotoko’s noses in front.
Hearts, stunned and dazed had it all to do and set out immediately to try and pull parity taking the game to Kotoko and laying bare their passing game which has been ever present under Kim Grant with the likes of Christopher Bonney and William Dankyi charging up and down the flanks with Kwadwo Obeng Junior, Alhassan Aminu and Benjamin Afutu also bossing things in midfield and not allowing Amos Frimpong and Kwame Bonsu to have any foothold in midfield for Kotoko.
Hearts would have the lion’s share of the ball in the first half only to disappoint with their final balls and to be thwarted by the impressive defensive pair of Wahab Adams and Abdul Ganiyu for Asante Kotoko and that pretty much summed up the story in the first half.
The Phobians would pick up where they left off in the first half dictating the play and leaving very little breathing space for Kotoko only to be undone yet again with their final balls with the likes of Joseph Esso and Umar Manaf continually fluffing their lines or occasionally getting themselves isolated.
Kotoko were happy to actually allow Hearts to have the ball only to hit them on the break and it worked a treat with Emmanuel Gyamfi particularly proving to be a thorn in the flesh of the Hearts defence whenever he had the ball.
Time was running out the and the narrative still remained the same with Hearts failing to really have anything to show for their control on overall proceedings and with Malik Akowuah later coming in from the bench to keep the control in midfield whiles Kofi Kordzi also came with another dimension to Hearts’ game in an attempt to offset Kotoko’s balance, there was still that element of cutting edge missing in the Hearts juggernaut.
Kotoko however were the happier of the two sides undoubtedly and were just content to wind down the clock but drama struck right at the death.
After having an earlier penalty call disallowed, the Phobians were not be denied again as Wahab Adams, who had barely put a foot wrong all afternoon for Kotoko was adjudged to have handled the ball in Kotoko’s six yard as the Porcupine Warriors finally succumbed to the incessant Hearts pressure.
And in what was the last kick in regulation time, Christopher Bonney, who hadn’t missed a spot kick throughout the competition for Hearts duly stepped up and dispatched coolly to send the game to penalty shootout.
The shootout was turning into an exhibition with Kofi Kordzi, Christopher Bonney, Robert Addo and Abubakar Traore all converting for Hearts. Kotoko held their end of the bargain following suit with successful kicks from Abdul Ganiyu, Jordan Opoku, Evans Owusu and Fatawu Safiu.
And just when we thought we could possibly head for sudden death, Mohammed Alhassan missed the Phobian’s last effort allowing Amos Frimpong to step up and fire Kotoko into the showpiece in tier I where they will be lining up versus Karela who also saw off Ashantigold in the other semifinal game.
And right in there, Hearts’ hopes of making a return to Africa extinguishes whiles Kotoko match on and look ahead to a date with Ashgold on Wednesday when the semifinal round in tier II comes calling with the Porcupine Warriors looking to at least secure one route to Africa next season.