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Football | Ghana

Remembering the thriller draw



As far as thrilling games between Kotoko and Hearts go, you'll have to go four years for that game: a six-goal thriller that will be talked about for years to come. Imagine a season in which the Ghana Premier League had the soon-to-be-world-superstar Kwadwo Asamoah, the talented Dominic Adiyiah, and the fleet-footed Obed Ansah.

Messy Hearts, bullish Kotoko

But, as usual, the presence of these names for Liberty Professionals and Hearts of Lions respectively could not overshadow the wait for the big game. Hearts, like they are today, were in a managerial mess and had appointed Harry Zakkour early in the season as its acting Chief Executive after losing 2-0 against Faisal.

Hearts, led by Israeli boss Eyal Lachman, went on to beat Liberty after Zakkour's appointment was made, lost 1-0 against Kessben and drew 1-1 with Tema Youth. It was not going well in the capital, but in Kumasi, Kotoko were destroying everyone in sight.

They'd beaten All Blacks 3-0 in the season opener in 2007, followed it with three unanswered goals past Zaytuna, scraped a 1-0 win against All Stars and thumped Sportive 3-0. And then they whipped Olympics 5-0.

It was the time goals were raining everywhere you looked, with Kotoko's Eric "the Hurricane" Bekoe at the forefront. But the hail of goals had to break after matchday ten, to make way for Ghana to host the 26th African Cup.

By the end of the tournament, Ghana was left emotionally drained. There was happiness, because the country had hosted an African Cup that was easily the best the continent had seen in terms of the football - 99 goals were recorded, making it the highest-scoring Nations Cup ever.

But the country was sad, too, for the vaunted host-and-win had never reached fruition, and the kangaroo dance that accompanied the Black Stars' goal celebrations, led by Michael Essien, Junior Agogo and Sulley Muntari, had died a silent death.

The goals continue

The league resumed on February 24, two weeks after Egypt had won a record sixth Afcon trophy. You would have thought the league's teams would be sluggish due to a lack of proper football. Wrong!

Ashgold won 4-0, Arsenals played 2-2 with Lions, Kotoko hit two past Tema Youth. And Hearts? They lost, again, 2-0 to RTU in Tamale.

By this time, it had become common knowledge that Hearts were not fighting for a league title, but a top four finish. For neutrals, this was good news, because it meant that the seven-year shuffling between Hearts and Kotoko would continue.

You see, this was the period when Hearts and Kotoko had been passing the league title between them since 2001 and 2002, when Hearts won the league back-to-back. In 2003, Kotoko had taken over, and the two had alternated league victories until 2009, when Aduana broke the duopoly.

The game, the thriller

And so four games into the second round, the two met in Kumasi. And just like they would on Sunday, Kotoko were all but sure of a victory against the tottering enemy.

It was one of three outstanding league games played across the country. The fixture, a high quality game, had almost everything: a packed stadium, strong challenges, near misses, drama. And an equal share of the spoils.

A fast-paced approach by the home side saw them unsettle the Phobians, who had to play on the break in the early minutes of the game.

Kotoko ensured that their pace on the flanks were well utilised and in the 10th minute, Jordan Opoku (no with Berekum Chelsea) moved down the left flank before his pass into the box found Kwadwo Poku, who drilled a shot into the far corner of goalkeeper Mohammed Saani.

However, four minutes later, the Phobians were level. Poor defending by Kotoko allowed Bernard Dong Bortey - whose history of scoring against Kotoko was at an all time high - to angle in a shot from the right past goalkeeper Abdoulaye Soulamana.

Bortey, who had joined Hearts after almost six years before, nearly put his side in the lead when his dipping shot was pushed over the bar by the Kotoko goalie.

Kotoko were on the backfoot, and the Phobians had the momentum. Poor defending once again exposed the home side and Hearts went up. Having pushed up their defensive line, Hearts' Ekow Ghansah slipped past Richard Manu from the middle of the field, raced into the Kotoko area and strike a shot past the onrushing goalkeeper.

The Phobian party was short-lived. Two minutes after taking the lead, Kotoko equalized from the boot of leading goal scorer, Eric Bekoe.

Then the stadium witnessed another goal, the game's fifth in just 45 minutes.

On the stroke of half time, Francis Bossman made sure the Phobians went into the break on top when he expertly hit a free kick, a grounder from some 30 yards away from Soulama in the red's goal.

Kotoko started the second half with a substitute goalkeeper, Eric Nii Baah, who took over from the leaking Burkinabe national. And five minutes into the half, Stephen Oduro drew level for the Reds when his shot deflected, and crawled past Hearts goalkeeper, Saani.

Both sides exhausted their substitutions as the home team could have sealed a win but misses by Bekoe, Oduro, Poku ensured that they shared the spoils with their rivals.

The aftermath

Hearts would jubilate because of the poor form prior to kickoff, but Kotoko laughed last by the season's end. Eric Bekoe won the goal king, as the reds scored a terrific 53 goals that season. Lions, second in the end, scored forty. It was, really, that kind of season.

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