There is little doubt today that, Heart of Lions from Kpando are in tip top form and if I am to risk the displeasure of many pundits, I will say they have been the best team in Ghana over the past three years.
Team Manager Yashim Laryea’s announcement that Heart of Lions will play in next season’s MTN CAF African Champion’s League (MCACL) should be seen as good news for all lovers of the beautiful game in Ghana. It is long overdue. Finally, Africa will get to see some of the best, yet unseen footballers Ghana has to offer.
Brain of the Lion
One of the unique features of Heart of Lions is the quality of technical staff CEO Victor Ahiakpor attracts into the team. Prior to the Oti Akenteng era, Lions were managed by Hans van der Plyumme who managed to transform a much unknown team to one of the best in Ghana.
Presently, the pair of Oti ‘Onyame Ba’ Akenteng and Paa Kwasi Fabian have continued the tradition fantastically well. Oti Akenteng, a CAF instructor, may have been unsuccessful with Accra Hearts of Oak in Africa, but he is among the most experienced crop of Ghanaian coaches. His assistant Paa Kwasi is famed for his passion and tactical sense.
Together, the two have tormented several domestic coaches and it will be a major disappointment if they do not carry the same attitude to Africa.
The Lion’s Pride
I have watched Heart of Lions demolish a number of teams. Per domestic standards, they possess a collection of players who can compete for honors on any day. This is one of the reasons why I am convinced that Africa is going to suffer from the Lion’s claws this time. If the present standard of the MCACL games are even improved by 200% (which is unlikely), the Lions will still be competitive.
In M. Adjetey and S. Axorlu Lions have two of the safest hands. I am however more confident in Adjetey than Axorlu. With a good imposing presence, Adjetey is a good leader on the field and coordinates the defense quite well He also possesses a very good positional sense. There are four goalkeepers who attracted my attention this season and Adjetey is one of them – F. Dauda, P. Antwi, M. Adjetey and Lugard Tetteh. Axorlu also comes in with excellent one-on-one situations and short stopping skills.
Together, the two goalkeepers have conceded an average of 1.2 goals per game this season – a very good record by all standards.
John Boye and Jerry Akamenko need no introduction in Ghanaian football. John Boye alone is capable of carrying the entire defensive set up of Lions on his shoulder into Africa. A true Lion he is, Boye has risen above all odds to become one of the most discussed footballers in Ghana. Hitherto, this pride of place was reserved for offensive midfielder with abundant skills and strikers.
Boye and Akamenko can always be trusted to be a step ahead of their opposition. Their anticipation of the opponent’s movement and tactical anticipation has won them many admirers. It is of little wonder therefore that Lions did not concede more than 1.3 goals per game on the average (<2).
The Lion’s defense becomes even more dangerous when Boye employs one his forward-moving antics. His tall frame coupled with his often on-target headers is a delight to watch and often turn out to be match winners.
Lions has a pack of top-notch midfielders whether in central midfield, on the wing, on the offense or in front of the defense. The icing on the Lion’s midfield is depth of experience of local Black Stars skipper Edmund O Ansah, former Kotoko winger George Yamoah and William Thompson and others.
One word for the Lion’s midfield is EXPERIENCE. No one goes into Africa without experience and come out with any silverware. This quantum of experience could prove very valuable for Lions in their quest to conquer Africa.
The African terrain is a rough one – even for a ferocious Lion. Tact, ball possession, good passing, clean tackles, high work rate, winning of 50-50 balls and a gang-ho mindset will be required. In this Lion’s midfield, I am certain of a good performance.
This is the linchpin of the Lion’s story. The famous Lion’s attack is made up of collection of well – groomed young talents who know nothing but to ferociously take on defenders and score. A cursory survey on domestic defenders and goalkeepers will reveal that when Adiyiah and Banahene are mentioned, quivers run through their spine. The Lion’s attack is skillfully glib. Banahene and Adiyiah led the Lions to the proud place of the fourth highest scoring team of the season with 39 goals in 29 games
Taking No Prisoners in Africa
I am convinced that the Lions will not disgrace Ghana in Africa. However, if they will succeed then they would need to add to their strengths and work on their weaknesses.
Lions possess character. The team is led by a man with spine and he has transferred a lot of his courage to his team. Teams cannot walk over the Lions easily. They always fight to the very end. In spite of their character it appears that individual player need their pressure-taking ability increased a notch higher. The way they buckled down when it was time to play penalties against Kotoko in the 2008 President’s Cup should be the signal for the technical team to increase their psychological work.
The speed on Lions’ flanks is no joke. It is a key strength of the team and they should look to guarding it with all diligence and doubling it where possible. It will prove to be a determining factor in many MCACL wins ahead games ahead of them.
Skills and Team Work
Coach Oti Akenteng must continually build on the team work of Lions. His players have skills in abundance. While possession of individual skills is good, team work is of the essence and they will need to build on it with alacrity if they are to go far in Africa.
Many Cooks Will Not Spoil The MTN CAF CL Broth
I doubt the quality of the Lions’ substitute bench. I can’t confidently say they have enough material depth on the bench. I believe Lions should work at getting the following players (based on availability) into their fold to beef up their African squad:
G.K – Lugard Tetteh
DF – Hannan Gyiwah
MF- Saliu Yakubu, Emmanuel Agyeman Badu, Abdul Ganiyu and Ashmond Asamoah
ST – Latif Salifu
Considering the skills of Adiyiah and Banahene and the threat they pose to defenders, the current average of 1.3 goals per game is not good enough. Oti Akenteng will have to step up their goal scoring practice if they are to win anything meaningful in Africa. This is a competition where goal difference matters.
Its about Time
Eight years of waiting for another Champion’s League Cup in Ghana is like eternity. Kotoko and Lions are capable of making us smile again and they deserve our full support.
W. Q. Paddy