The thrill of a side resurrecting itself from the dead is a sensation Ghana football fans have felt over and over
By: Sammie Frimpong
Continental football action last week saw European fans — particularly those of Liverpool and Madrid’s two biggest clubs — treated to comebacks that thrilled as much as any the sport has ever served. Still, even Cristiano Ronaldo’s breathtaking solo performance that knocked Wolfsburg cold at the Santiago Bernabeu on Tuesday and the orgasmic scenes at Anfield two nights later would struggle to be counted an improvement on these five great revivals created by Ghanaian football sides of yore:
MIRACLE OF EL-WAK (1977 AFRICAN CUP OF CHAMPIONS CLUBS)
Hearts of Oak, after a few failed attempts, had a fine opportunity to rival archenemies Asante Kotoko in reaching the final of Africa’s elite club competition, known then as the African Cup of Champions Clubs. Actually getting there, though, was a tall order, as Hearts, wrestling Zambia’s Mufulira Wanderers at the El-Wak Stadium, would have to overturn the 5-2 loss suffered in the first leg a fortnight prior. The Phobians needed to score three times — unanswered, too — and, after a rather uninspiring first half, did just that, courtesy two Anas Seidu goals either side of Peter Lamptey’s finish. The brightest star of the show, though, was Mohammed Polo, the 22-year-old who had a hand in all three strikes and who would go on to become arguably the greatest Hearts’ player of all time. Too bad that Hearts, after going through so incredibly, lost the final to Hafia Conakry.
ZAMALEK STUNNED (1987 AFRICAN CUP OF CHAMPIONS CLUBS)
It isn’t always that Zamalek — yes, the mighty Egyptians themselves — get thumped 5-1 but, in one rare instance when that happened, Kotoko, exactly ten years after Hearts had bested Wanderers, pulled it off in Kumasi. The Reds had lost the opening meeting 2-0, and things got even more complicated when, barely five minutes into the reverse, the visitors struck their third goal over two legs. But that prick only roused the slumbering porcupine before a teeming crowd at the then Kumasi Sports Stadium to immediate and devastating effect. Three Windsor Kofi Abbrey corner-kicks later, Kotoko were cruising. By full-time, redemption had been completed in stunning fashion, with a brace each from Sarfo Gyamfi and Prince Opoku crowned by a close range effort netted by Saarah Mensah, Opoku’s substitute. Zamalek — who even changed goalkeepers in a futile attempt to weather the Kotoko storm — never knew what hit them. And so it was that Kotoko secured a ticket to the semis where they played Al-Ahly, Zamalek’s domestic foes. This time, however, another 2-0 loss in Cairo couldn’t be turned around but, considering Ahly eventually got crowned champions of Africa that year, there was very little shame.
A FLEEING SAINT (2006 CAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE)
When Dawick Mebratu’s hat-trick helped condemn Hearts to a shock 4-0 defeat away to minnows Saint George of Ethiopia, few sides crushed so heftily may have even dreamt of swinging the tie back their way in the return duel. Not irrepressible Hearts, though. As against Mufulira [when they hosted the opposition outside their dear Accra Sports Stadium], Hearts put Saint George to the sword in Obuasi, scoring twice in the first half via set-pieces converted by red-hot Bernard Dong Bortey. Another penalty granted the home team by Beninois referee Crestin Aguidissou close to half-time saw Hearts threaten a rout and provoked a furious Saint George who, unable to bear the heat anymore amid suspicions of foul play on the part of the match officials,walkedoff in protest, braving the Confederation of African Football’s own rage in doing so.
DOLPHINS AT SEA (2008 CAF CONFEDERATION CUP)
And, again, Kotoko staged a comeback of theirs that almost seemed to top Hearts’ latest. This time, the opponents were Nigeria’s Dolphins FC, a side Kotoko needed to beat by a margin no narrower than 3-0 to eliminate after being pipped 2-0 two weeks before. Bashir Hayford’s charges took the game to the guests, netting the opener to half the deficit and raring to complete the task before it got any tougher. But the elements rose against Kotoko, as a rainstorm forced the fixture to be called off mid-game by the officials. The next day, a Monday, Kotoko had it all to do again, only to be pegged further back in their quest by an early Dolphins’ goal. Slowly, though, Kotoko crawled back into the contest, doggedly fighting their way to a 4-1 conquest climaxed by a dramatic finale (incidentally, another Nigerian outfit, Wikki Tourists had been trounced by an identical scoreline in the previous round at the same venue). It’s a day many Kotoko fans wouldn’t forget exactly where they were.
‘BOAKYE MAGIC’ (2002 CUP OF NATIONS)
Ghanaian clubs haven’t been the sole workers of such remarkable ‘miracles’, though; on an occasion or two, the country’s national teams have been in on the act, too. Among the more memorable of such feats was at the 2002 Nations Cup in Mali. Ghana had drawn its first two games, against Morocco and South Africa, and, to stand any chance of emerging safe from tight Group B, had to beat neighbours Burkina Faso in the third. It wasn’t until the 81st minute that a goal rang, the Stallions taking the lead through Koh Traore. Seconds before Nigerian referee Chukwudi Chukwujekwu brought proceedings to an end and send the Black Stars packing, though, super-sub Isaac Boakye popped up with two goals from Lord-knows-where to turn the match on its head. Utterly brilliant, but even more memorable as it would be the Stars’ only win at that tournament