Sports Features of Saturday, 12 November 2011

Source: Gomez, Ato P K

Happy Birthday, Great-Grandpa! - Accra Hearts of Oak’s Century

Participation in CAF Club Competitions

*Part 3 - The Champions’ League Era*

In 1991, Accra Hearts of Oak participated in and went out of the CCC in the first round. It was also the club’s most disappointing outing to date and it was to be another seven years in 1998 before Hearts of Oak returned to Africa’s premier continental club competition as one of forty-two teams.

This time, the African Cup of Champions Clubs competition had been transformed into the CAF Champions League the previous year in 1997. Incidentally, ‘grand-child’ Obuasi Goldfields had represented Ghana and reached the final in the first Champions League.

Hearts of Oak’s first Champions League match was against Djoliba AC of Mali. A draw away and a home win ensured the team’s advance to the second round where the opponents were Cotonsport Garoua of Cameroon. A 2-1 loss away and 1-0 home win resulted in a 2-2 aggregate with Hearts of Oak advancing on away goal scored.

The quarter-final was organised in two groups of four teams each. Hearts of Oak was drawn in group A with Dynamos (Zimbabwe), Etoile du Sahel (Tunisia) and Eagle Cement (Nigeria).

Playing each other twice on a home and away basis, Hearts of Oak finished second with ten points behind Dynamos, who also finished with ten points but with a better goal difference. Indeed, in the matches between the two teams, Hearts of Oak drew the home leg 1-1 and won the away leg in Zimbabwe 1-0.

The final group table results also showed Hearts of Oak with three wins, one draw and two defeats. A satisfactory, if not unlucky, Champions League debut.

With no semi-finals then, Dynamos advanced to the final where they faced ASEC Mimosas of Abidjan. ASEC won the cup on a 4-2 aggregate. A West African consolation for Hearts of Oak, perhaps? Maybe not.

The following year in 1999, Hearts of Oak were back in the Champions League as one of forty-one teams, reaching the quarter-final group stage and finishing third on the league table.

In the first round, Hearts of Oak were drawn against Ela Nguema of Equatorial Guinea. Ela Nguema were duly dispatched in what was Hearts of Oak’s biggest aggregate margin win of 9-0 (a 3-0 away win, and a 6-0 return home win) to go through to the next round. Hearts of Oak’s second round opponents were Villa SC of Uganda where the team progressed 4-1 on aggregate.

The quarter-final group A opponents were Al-Ahly (Egypt), Raja Casablanca (Morocco) and Shooting Stars (Nigeria). The final group table results showed Hearts of Oak in third place with two wins, two draws and two defeats. The team scored six goals scored and conceded eight goals.

If Hearts of Oak’s 1999 Champions League experience represented a step back on the 1998 effort, 2000 turned out to be the club’s final breakthrough in this competition, and the chance to bury past nightmares and lay hands on that elusive trophy. Forty-five teams had entered the tournament.

In the first round, Hearts were drawn against ‘old friends’ Horoya FC of Guinea Conakry, advancing to the next round on an aggregate margin of 4-3. Second round opponents were DC Motema of Congo Kinshasa. Again, Hearts of Oak progressed on a 4-3 aggregate.

In the quarter-final league stage, Al-Ahly (Egypt), Jean d’Arc (Senegal) and Lobi Stars (Nigeria) were the other teams joining Hearts of Oak in group B.

Winning the group with fourteen points, the final table also showed Hearts of Oak with four wins, two draws and no defeat, with twelve goals scored and five goals conceded.

The stage was* *now set for Hearts of Oak’s third appearance in the final of the continent’s top club competition. Waiting for them was Esperance of Tunisia, who had won group A with twelve points.

Prior to the 2nd December first leg encounter in Tunis, Esperance had gone 41 home matches in CAF club competitions without defeat. After going behind in the 36th minute, two goals in the 52nd and 79th minutes gave Hearts of Oak a significant 2-1 away leg victory.

All that was left for Hearts of Oak to do was to avoid defeat in the return leg in Accra two weeks later; or, at least, not lose by a score other than 1-0. In the end, Hearts won an eventful match 3-1 after going behind, and the match being interrupted for 18 minutes.

So, finally, the great-grandpa of Ghana football, Accra Hearts of Oak, achieved the ultimate prize in African club international football at the third attempt.

*Super Cup 2000/2001*

In February, 2001, Hearts faced Zamalek of Cairo, the 2000 Cup Winners’ Cup winners. According to reports, Zamalek had sought a change of venue from Accra to Cairo, citing safety concerns following the incidents at the Champions' League final, but CAF decided to move the match to Kumasi, Ghana, instead. Hearts won the match 2-0 to be crowned the 2000/2001 Super Cup winners.

Hearts of Oak were back the following year to defend the Champions League title, together with thirty-eight other teams. Hearts of Oak has also successfully defended the Ghana League title.

However, whether it was from a hang-over as a result of winning the trophy or for some other reason, Hearts of Oak had another disappointing outing. After winning the first leg in Accra 3-1 against Etoile du Congo (Brazzaville), they lost the return leg by a 5-1 margin to surrender the crown on a 6-4 aggregate score-line.

The 2002 Champions League campaign was no improvement. Winning the Ghana League title once more, Hearts of Oak were back among thirty-two teams, including first round opponents, Stade Malien. After drawing the first leg in Accra Hearts of Oak lost the return leg in Bamako to exit the competition.

Hearts of Oak were back in the 2003 Champions League, after successfully defending the Ghana League title. First round opponents were Togolese neighbours, AS Douane of Lomé and Hearts of Oak went on to record a 4-1 aggregate win to ensure progress to the second round where the opponents were Atlético Sport Aviação of Angola. Following a 3-0 first leg away defeat, a 2-0 home win was not enough to see Hearts of Oak through, being eliminated on a 3-2 aggregate score line.

The 2004 Champions League again saw Hearts of Oak entering the competition at the preliminary stage. Their opponents were, once again, Stade Malien. This time, Hearts seemed better prepared and after a 0-0 draw away, won the return leg 2-0 at home.

Hearts of Oak’s opponents in the first round were Atlético Sport Aviação of Angola, a team they were also meeting for the second year running, though not in the second round this time. Again, Hearts were better prepared and a 4-1 home win, followed by a 1-1 draw away in Angola ensured a 5-2 aggregate, and progress to the next round.

Hearts of Oak’s second round opponents were Etoile du Sahel of Tunisia. After both teams had recorded 1-0 wins apiece to result in a 1-1 aggregate, Hearts went out 5-4 on penalties.

Another early exit was the fate of Hearts of Oak in the 2005 Champions League. Drawn against Dolphins FC of Nigeria at the one-sixteenth round, a 2-1 win in the return leg was not enough, as a 4-0 first leg defeat in Nigeria meant elimination.

The 2006 Champions League again saw Hearts of Oak drawn against a team at the preliminary stage. Their opponents were Wallidan of Gambia. However, with Wallidan withdrawing before the first leg, Hearts had a walk-over into the next round.

Hearts of Oak’s opponents in the one-sixteenth finals first round were Saint George of Ethiopia. Saint George won the first leg 4-0 at home. In the second leg encounter in Accra, the match was abandoned with the score at 2-0 to Hearts of Oak when, in 45+9 minutes, Saint George walked off the pitch protesting a (second) penalty award against them. The tie was subsequently awarded to Hearts of Oak.

Hearts of Oak’s next opponents at the one-eight finals stage were, yet again, Etoile du Sahel of Tunisia. After both teams had, again, recorded 1-0 wins apiece to produce a 1-1 aggregate, Hearts of Oak this time progressed to the group stage by winning 6-5 on penalties. ASEC Mimosas (Cote d’Ivoire), Enyimba (Nigeria) and Orlando Pirates (South Africa) were the other teams joining Hearts of Oak in group B.

In what turned out to be Hearts of Oak’s worst group stage result, they finished bottom of the table, winning none, drawing two and losing six. Hearts of Oak also failed to score a single goal and conceded seven.

The 2008 Champions League again saw Hearts of Oak entering the competition at the preliminary stage. Their opponents were FC 105 of Libreville, Gabon. The first leg ended 3-0 to FC 105 and even though Hearts of Oak won the return leg 3-1 in Accra, FC 105’s away goal scored in Accra meant they progressed 4-3 on aggregate. That was also to be Accra Hearts of Oak’s last appearance in a CAF club continental competition.

Having won the 2008/2009 Ghana Premier League, Accra Hearts of Oak was to be one of Ghana's two representatives in the 2010 CAF Champions League. However, Hearts of Oak declined to enter, citing financial reasons for the withdrawal.

In the final part of the Accra Hearts of Oak story of participation in CAF competitions, we will look at the rest of the competitions: the Cup Winners’ Cup, the CAF Cup and the Confederations Cup.


Correction: In part two which appeared on 7 November, it was stated that Hearts of Oak lost 2-1 to Kabwe Warriors in the Lusaka match. Thanks to G. Dart, I re-checked and got confirmation from Zambian sources of the correct Lusaka result; a 2-1 win to Hearts of Oak, making the two-legged aggregate result 9-3 to Hearts of Oak.


Ato P K Gomez