|It wasn't exactly a packed stadium but the atmosphere was electric and the football was cracking|
ACCRA-----Heart of Lions coach Yusif Abubakar, in the company of his club’s press officer, ascended the stairs leading up to the press room of the Accra Sports Stadium. Journalists had huddled around Olympics coach Kassim Mingle in the corridor just outside the press room, carrying out a make-shift post-match conference while standing and being engaged in the traditional struggle to get their recorders close enough to their subject’s mouth. The crowdedness of the whole process made the heat unbearable, and some journalists had even given up, going on an angry rant about why the press room would be locked after a game when the Ghana Football Association had specifically declared post-match pressers compulsory.
They weren’t the only angry ones. While journalists gave their attention to Mingle, Abubakar paced about impatiently outside, his temper rising steadily. Then it happened; he let if all out. With his facial veins bulging out amid beads of sweat forming on his face, Abubakar’s fury erupted. “What is the meaning of all this? Where is the respect?!” he questioned angrily. “You people bash us on radio. You say Ghanaian coaches don’t like talking after losing game, that we are primitive. But when we come, you don’t pay attention to us. I’ve been here waiting and not one of you has come to engage me in conversation. Is this fair?”
The journalists had to abruptly end their conversation with Mingle in order to quell the tension brewing from Abubakar’s tantrum throwing. A few of us gathered around him and pleaded with him to be calm and forgiving as this whole mess could have been avoided had the press room been opened. It didn’t help much as the anger was still very much visible, but he made his way into the corridor just outside the press room in order for us to get his views on the game that had just ended.
|Lions coach Yusif Abubakar|
The game? Abubakar’s Lions side had just lost to home side Great Olympics in their Match Day two fixture. A critical look at the game would perhaps give clues about why his fury seemed so abnormal, so incongruous. It wasn’t only because of the whole journalists-ignoring-him drama, surely. It was something more – something about the game. Lions had gone into the first half break with a 2-1 lead, increasingly looking like they had the game under their authoritative control. In the 32nd minute, the Kpando-based team took the lead with a beautiful free-kick from 20 yards that was expertly curled by winger Isaac Quansah , the ball bouncing mischievously in front of the Olympics keeper Abraham Odonkor at his left post and beating him.
Olympics, who to be fair worked harder that the Lions team despite looking more vulnerable, equalized eight minutes later when the tall, well-built midfielder Godfred Asante slammed in a rebound from a freekick that had seen the ball come off the wall and into his path just outside the box. The home crowd – not many of them, admittedly, but an encouraging number who had turned up for their club’s first top flight home game in over fours years –cheered wildly.
But the joy was short lived.
Just four minutes later, Lions had the last say – roar, if you like – in the first half, when winger Quansah turned provider, setting up Ousman Muntaka with a well-measured cross which was side-footed in delightfully. The referee’s half time whistle met a Lions team that looked well on course for an away win. But the problem was that they had played with a glaring sense of complacency and cockiness, perhaps owing to the fact that they – a club that finished second last season and started this season with a comfortable win in their first fixture against New Edubiase at home in Kpando on Sunday - were playing against an inexperienced newly promoted side that had lost its first game. “My players did not play to instructions, they were doing what they liked,” Abubakar fumed after the game. “We were over-confident; we underestimated them,” captain Sam Yeboah admitted.
They would pay for that attitude. They found themselves pinned to their own half by an Olympics side that played with so much hunger and so much desire. Their tireless running and relentless surges was justly rewarded 13 minutes into the new half. The clock read 58 minutes and Olympics were still fighting for every ball like they were playing in a World Cup final. Their deep persistence found gold when they stunned their opponents and struck two quick fire goals to go 3-2 up. Striker Kwame Boateng, whose sluggishness in the first half drew a lot of bashing from the home crowd, stepped up to the plate by bagging all two goals. The first saw him hold off Lions’ towering center back John Kufuor, taking the ball away from him in the box and firing a low shot with the instep of his boot past the on rushing goalie Mozart Adjetey. The second saw him pounce instinctively on a long through ball on the left hand side inside the box, allowing the ball to bounce before unleashing a skillful volley that slammed the back of the net to rapturous applause.
|Some Olympics fans enjoying the game|
Olympics had worked so hard that even Abubakar had to momentarily snap out of his fury to praise them, his face lit-up with admiration. “They were very very committed and very very determined,” he said.
With many pundits already writing them off and tipping them for an early U-turn back into the second tier – where they endured four long years of struggle since being relegated in the 2009/10 Ghana Premier League season – Olympics are determined to prove their doubters wrong. It is strange that a club that was one of the Ghana league’s founding members in 1958 is now considered as a club whose rightful home is the second division. Long years of boardroom wrangling has confined this illustrious club to mediocrity. But this year, they want to right all the wrongs.
That Olympics is one of Ghana’s foremost traditional clubs is never a moot assertion. With a rich, enviable history, their two league titles and three FA Cups pitch them in as the third most successful club in Ghana besides the top duo of Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko. This year, there's is a noticeable hunger to tap into their immense worth and write a new chapter. The ‘Agorsu’ club is on a mission to restore former glory.
Their first game, a 2-0 loss in Obuasi to in-form Ashanti Gold seems to have been put behind if their spirited display is anything to read from. “We are not going back,” coach Kassim Mingle said, with a sense of aggressiveness that contradicted his calm, soft-spoken demeanor. “We are not here to add to the numbers. No. We are here to fight and make an impact. You wait, by the time the league finishes, you will see us among the top four.”
Olympics will need to replicate the indefatigable fight shown during the Lions game in their 28 remaining fixtures if they are to realize all the courageous talk and fairytale hopes. Talk is cheap, dreams are ubiquitous. It is now time for Oly – the club loved by many in Ghana for having thousands of nicknames - to put in some work to back it all up.
---AshantiGold are proving that their preseason form – that saw them complete a sensational double over their regional rivals Asante Kotoko and hold Hearts of Oak to a 1-1 draw in the final – was not a fluke. Two matches into the new season and two wins already the Aboakese lads, as they went to Sogakope and outwitted newly-promoted West Africa Football Academy (WAFA) in a 1-0 win. 16 matches played this season and this was the only win chalked by an away team. Bashir Hayford’s men mean business.
---WAFA, though. They suffered their second consecutive loss in what is turning out to be reminiscent of the cliché baptism of fire for newly promoted clubs. Another Inter Allies in the making? Remember them? Inter Allies lost their first six league games last season and everyone jumped on the “they will surely go back” bandwagon. But that obviously never happened. WAFA will hope to draw inspiration from this. The former Feyernoord Academy team are not losing because they are clueless. No. Look, as far as pure technique and brilliance goes, WAFA are peerless in Ghana. Anyone who has seen them play will attest to that fact. Do not let the results fool you. They have such a young squad and they will need time to warm up to the merciless realities of the top flight. But they need to do so fast. Coach John Kila has to get his men firing before its too late.
---Two matches into the new season and the defending champions are yet to win. An opening day loss has been followed by a 2-2 home draw against Hasaacas. There is something wrong with Asante Kotoko, and this assessment is neither knee jerk nor premature. Last season, they won every single game until Match Day 7, when they lost 1-0 at Bechem. This is a side that is supposed to be above early season struggling – they were double winners last year and the level of dominance they have exerted on the local game does make their current form hard not to criticize. For a team that is gearing up to do Ghana proud in the CAF Champions League, Kotoko need to snap out of this false-start as quickly as they can. Otherwise, catastrophic things will start happening and people will start questioning whether their dominance was really substantial or was as a result of weak competition. Trust me, that conversation has been lurking in the shadows.
---Hearts of Oak too threw away a 2-1 first half lead to lose 4-1 away at Berekum Chelsea. Hearts won’t be worried too much as this was an away game; but throwing away a lead has a way of causing psychological damage. It will be interesting to see if the Phobians recover when they host Medeama home away from home in Sekondi on Friday. And oh, Gilbert Fiamenyo’s early season form though; three goals in two games. Great stuff, but he did something similar two seasons ago, around April-May 2013, when he went on a great streak scoring – including a home brace against none other than Chelsea - but fizzled out later. Interesting to see if he’s able to sustain it this time around.
--Kennedy Ashia is back! Don’t know who he is? He is your favourite play maker’s favourite playmaker. Hw3, Dansoman Frank Lampard papapaa. Go figure.
Berekum: Berekum Chelsea 4-2 Hearts of Oak [Stephen Baffour, Kofi Owusu, Benett Ofori: Gibert Fiamenyo 2x]
Kumasi: Asante Kotoko 2-2 Hasaacas [Emmanuel Asante, Dauda Mohammed: Amos Korankye, Emmanuel Ankobiah]
Dansoman: Liberty Professionals 2-0 B.A United [Kennedy Ashia 2x]
Bechem: Bechem United 1-0 Inter Allies [Aminu Mohammed]
Accra: Great Olympics 3-2 Heart of Lions [Godfred Asante, Kwame Boateng 2x : Isaac Quansah, Ousman Muntaka]
Tarkwa: Medeama 0-0 Wa All Stars
Sogakope: WAFA 0-1 AshantiGold [Petrus Shtelmbi]
Bekwai: New Edubiase United 1-1 Aduana Stars [Bernard Ofori : Elvis Opoku]
*Premier League table here