GHALCA 8: Hearts beat Kotoko in Kumasi to qualify for final

BY: Donald Ato Dapatem
Kotoko’s Frederick Boateng clearing the ball under pressure from Hearts’ Richard Akrofi.
Kotoko’s Frederick Boateng clearing the ball under pressure from Hearts’ Richard Akrofi.

Accra Hearts of Oak beat arch-rivals, Kumasi Asante Kotoko 4-2 on penalties at the Baba Yara Sports Stadium to secure a place in the final of the GHALCA G8 tournament.

On an afternoon of exciting football, both sides failed to utilise any of the numerous scoring opportunities which fell their way in either half and at the end of regulation time, referee Maxwell Hanson had no other option but to apply the penalty shootout to determine the winner.

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Christopher Bonney, Francis Morton, Patrick Razak and Malik Akowuah all converted their kicks for Hearts while teammate Richard Akrofi’s kick was saved by Kotoko’s goalkeeper Eric Donkor.

With Kotoko’s Baba Mahama and Awudu Nafiu converting their kicks and Jackson Owusu shooting the ball off-target, Hearts’ goalie Ben Mensah turned the hero of the day after he saved Eric Donkor’s decisive kick to hand the Phobians another famous victory over their rivals on their home soil and a date with the winner of today’s semi-final clash between Medeama SC and Dreams FC at the Cape Coast Sports Stadium in Sunday’s final.

Hearts, who gave early indication of their intention to carry the day, had the first opportunity when forward Cosmos Dauda fluffed a fine through pass in the ninth minute.

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Dauda and teammates Reginald Thompson and Francis Morton were thorns in the flesh of the Kotoko backline but could not get the ball past goalkeeper Donkor.

As the pendulum swung from one side to the other, Sylla Vie Mohammed, Emmanuel Gyamfi and Kwame Boahene tried in vain to penetrate the tight Hearts defence and left fans sitting on tenterhooks in anxious wait for the opening goal.

The Phobians had another chance to break the deadlock through defensive pillar, Inusah Musah, who fired a powerful shot from the centre circle which missed Kotoko’s post by inches.

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Perhaps the best opportunity of the game came the way of Hearts’ Bonney who had a virtually empty post at his mercy, but he surprisingly kicked the ball over the bar to the chagrin of Hearts officials and supporters but a welcome relief to Kotoko, who until then, had their back to the wall.

Drama unfolded in the 52nd minute when Hearts’ Scottish coach, Frank Nuttall, engaged in a struggle for the ball with a Kotoko player. It ensued when the referee whistled for a throw-in close to Hearts’ technical bench but Nuttall caught the ball and only released it after the intervention of the fourth referee.

It was an intense battle which occasionally took a toll on the players to an extent that in the 72nd minute, five players from both sides were seen on the ground calling for help either out of exhaustion or injury for which the referee held up play for two minutes until the players received attention and got back to their feet.