By: Enoch Fiifi Forson
Finally, the long delayed and much awaited 2015/16 GPL season is upon us! Asante Kotoko and WAFA will have the honor of kicking off the season as they clash at the Sogakope Stadium on Saturday, the 20th of February.
Meanwhile, can we now minimize the attention to the foreign leagues?
The off season has been chock-full with friendlies, litigations, player transfers cum acquisitions, coaching changes etc. and it’s going to be interesting to see which purchases yield dividends.
Things need to shape up nicely this term, from fans turning out in numbers to watch games, to match officials delivering their best and the GFA doing away with unnecessary breaks as it reduces interest in the league.
Tipping Kotoko to be a tough nut to crack after dominating the pre-season headlines, Aduana need to be taken seriously for their excellent dealings in the transfer market, underestimate them at your peril and talk of Hearts winning the league is frankly ridiculous judging from the fact they have a coach who's not acquainted to the Ghanaian system and the number of average players they have.
Despite their involvement in the ever difficult CAF inter-clubs competition, I do agree with many who think Champions Ashgold and Medeama are the clubs likely to retain or win the league respectively and the last season’s last minute survivors have to hit the field running to avoid same.
Best wishes to newly promoted clubs Ebusua Dwarfs, Techiman FC and Dreams FC. For the first two, the top-flight division is a familiar terrain and a good accounting is expected of them and for the neophyte Dreams FC side, I will not be hard on them if they find the competition tougher than expected but I am hoping they pull an ‘Inter Allies’.
And thus, the new season will kick off with great excitement in the air; off field litigation issues for newly promoted side Techiman City who will take to the field under a stay of execution following their demotion to the tier two division over alleged bribery by the FA‘s Ethics Committee, Asante Kotoko facing a severe test to their title aspirations at Sogakope with the latter bent on keeping their excellent home record from last year intact, a day of reckoning for new Hearts of Oak boss - Japanese-American Coach, Kinechi Yatsuhashi as his employers look for a confirmation of his skillset for the job and his detractors an affirmation of their complaints, a battle right out of the gates between two promoted sides – Ebusua Dwarfs vs. Dreams FC (Debutants) at Cape Coast, a Brong Ahafo derby between Berekum Chelsea and Techiman City.
Even the FA cannot be left out of the impending drama and excitement, there’s the uncertainty and perhaps brewing legal brouhaha between Capital Bank (formerly First Capital Plus Bank) and the FA following the latter’s sponsorship withdrawal or quest for a restructured deal and who the title sponsors of this year is or will be.
Let’s overlook the murky drama that unfolded on Thursday about a court injunction seeking to stop the league from kicking off as scheduled on Saturday, the 20 of February that saw the Ghana FA issue a tweet to calm frayed nerves.
The 2015/16 Ghana Premier League will kick off this weekend in all eight match venues across the country. pic.twitter.com/sYH1z3N1ZG
— Ghana FA (@ghanafaofficial) February 18, 2016
West Africa Football Academy vs Asante Kotoko - Sogakope, FEB. 20th
Kotoko's title aspirations has been dealt a massive blow after midfielder Jackson Owusu was ruled out of entire season with a broken leg and experienced gaffer, David Duncan, has cautioned his players against complacency in their quest to annex the title.
“The competition as a matter of fact hasn’t started, I have been around long enough to know that you take it one game at a time.” “We don’t let that get into our heads, there is a lot of work to be done Duncan is under pressure from the demanding fans to deliver after failing to win a major trophy last term.
Kotoko run amok with 10 wins from 12 pre-season games, winning the G6 trophy plus Anniversary cup in the process.
The porcupines were one of the busiest on the transfer market, buying 12 players and offloading six including Ahmed Toure, their top score (11 goals) from last season. New players like Bennett Ofori, Kwame Boateng, Halipha Sedogo and Michael Yeboah proved during the off season that they can help return the title to Kumasi.
Injured striker Dauda Mohammed has been excluded from the squad to Sogakope.
The formidable Sogakope-based club handed Kotoko a 1-0 defeat when the two sides played at Sogakope last season, and they will be shooting for a repeat as the Porcupines seek a reversal of fortune.
WAFA will have talented winger Samuel Tetteh available after his return from trial with Swedish giants Malmo FF but he may have to go at it alone for greater parts of the game due to the departure of his partner in crime Zakari Mumuni to Aduana Stars.
Prediction: WAFA 0-1 Kotoko
Hearts of Oak vs New Edubiase - Accra, Feb. 21
A tough one to call and Kenichi Yatsuhashi will agree with me. The Japanese coach will be presiding over his first competitive match as Hearts of Oak’s coach on Sunday against New Edubiase.
Edubiase bested Hearts twice last season with a 2-1 scoreline. The Phobians must put up a masterful performance to neutralize the Bekwai-based club.
Hearts endured a forgettable pre-season, losing in Libya, bowing out of the G6 tournament without scoring a goal, but victories from their last two pre-season games could inspire them on to greater heights.
Not much is expected of Hearts' 12 acquisitions. Six of them, including Samudeen Ibrahim who was adjudged best player in the 2015/2016 Division one league season have less experience in the top-flight division as they were bought from second tier clubs.
Samuel Yeboah is obviously the only player with a wealth of experience following his exploits at Heart of Lions and stints with a host of foreign clubs, Genk inclusive.
“My assistant coach has told me about their history and they are a very difficult team to play especially when they are coming to our home, so we have to be very strong and to win against them,” Kenichi told reporters.
Edubiase needed a win on the final day of last season against Heart of Lions to survive and it will be interesting to see how things pan out for them without their goal scoring core of Alhassan Nuhu, Fuseini Nuhu, Bernard Ofori and Latif Amadu.
Fuseini and Ofori now with Ashgold and Medeama respectively scored a combined total of 19 goals out of the 38 Edubiase registered. Amadu and Alhassan Nuhu complimented the squad with a host of assists and goals.
Amadu scored the winning goal when Hearts visited Edubiase last campaign from a spectacular effort which drew praises from all and sundry.
You'll get good odds for whichever side of the fence you opt for, but a win for Hearts is the most profitable option as they have most wins (6) and also average a goal in all 12 meetings with Edubiase.
Prediction: Hearts of Oak 2-1 New Edubiase
Ashanti Gold vs Medeama Sporting club - Obuasi, Feb. 21
A repeat of the 2016 Super Cup which Medeama won under controversial circumstance. Referee Daniel Laryea wrongly disallowed a legitimate goal by Frederick Quayson before allowing Medeama an offside goal.
But on Sunday defending PL Champions – Ashgold - will have the luxury of playing in front of their teeming home fans and no 'Daniel Laryea' to contend with when Medeama comes visiting.
One of the good fortunes that accounted for Miners title triumph last season was their domineering performance at home, posting 12 wins and no defeats at home alongside Berekum Chelsea and Aduana.
And with the goal poaching duo of Nuhu and Alhassan Fuseini in their fold, they should be able to replicate that or better, starting with coach Tom Strand's stubborn Medeama.
A good preparation match for AshGold’s champion’s league away game against MO Bejaia, after the former squeaked a lone goal victory over their visitors.
Mauves and Yellow on the other hand have a young squad, who have been together for close to two seasons and are capable of causing problems to any team on a good day.
Medeama will relish the opportunity to start the season on a good note and I fancy them to snatch at least a point from this encounter but a win for the host is likely.
Prediction: Ashanti Gold 1-0 Medeama SC
International Allies vs Aduana Stars - Tema, Feb. 21
Alphabetically Aduana sits atop the table, but as to whether they can maintain that position depends on their first match against Inter Allies at Tema Park.
New bus, marquee acquisitions - Zakari Mumuni (WAFA’s top scorer), Richard Mpong from Kotoko, Noah Martey (Bechem’s top scorer) and dexterous Yahaya Mohammed -, and renewal of contracts of instrumental players - Daniel Darkwah, Godfred Saka and Stephen Adams -, Aduana are set as contenders.
Overcoming Inter Allies at Tema is surely a tall order for any club. It took WAFA who of course are very familiar with astro turf to end their unbeaten home run that dated as far back as 2013 last year. As formidable title contenders, Aduana needs to win games of this magnitude to earn respect
Apart from being awful in the first round of their PL debut season, Allies have been formidable, especially at home, dispatching opponents with delectable football and it does not seem like coach Herbert Addo and his charges will be slowing down this term.
This could well be the tightest clash of the weekend, if last season’s record is anything to go by. Both had a win each.
Prediction: Inter Allies 1-2 Aduana Stars
Ebusua Dwarfs vs Dreams FC - Cape coast, Feb. 21
Top-flight football returns to Cape Coast after a year’s absence. Expect the Robert Mensah stadium to be full with fans cheering and jeering from the blast of the whistle to the end.
There's not much history between these two in the top flight division but home field and Dwarfs strength on paper should play to their favor and earn them the maximum spoil.
Ebusua Dwarfs can rely on Bright Lukman who scored over 30 goals in Division One last season.
However, Dwarfs ought to keep a close eye on former Hearts of Oak midfielder Emmanuel Hayford who signed for Dreams on deadline day and not allow him to operate and dictate proceedings if he starts. Hayford is blessed with immense potential and has the ability to singlehandedly decide games.
Prediction: Ebusua Dwarfs 2-0 Dreams FC
Bechem united vs Liberty Professionals - Bechem, Feb. 21
Bechem and Liberty sprang into life just in time to save their season last year and to prevent a reoccurrence they must kick off on a good note and that leaves this tie tasty and appealing to neutrals but trust Bechem to make good use of home court. Playing in front of the Bechem faithful is never easy, no matter what vein or form the opposition side is in.
Bechem United have shed some top talent - Noah Martey - and will welcome Liberty with their goal scoring potential seemingly degraded.
The two teams are tied on three wins each after six clashes. Pick one to place your bet on as a draw is not likely.
Prediction: Bechem 1-0 Liberty
WA All Stars FC vs Sekondi Hasaacas - WA, Feb. 21
All Stars finished ninth last season. They seem to be building a decent fortress at WA Park and they have created enough havoc to make it a tough place for visitors.
The Blues are amongst the handful that traveled abroad - Saudi Arabia - to indulge in friendlies and theirs produced exceptional results. They thumped Saudi Pro League side Al Faisaly 3-0 before recording a double over Al Shabab, 2-1 and 2-0.
Their opponents off season was nothing to write home about, having been rocked by constant training boycott over unpaid salaries.
And they weren't that busy in the transfer market, signing Hearts reject Philip Boampong and one time top scorer Eric Bekoe and simultaneously saying farewell to the likes of Frederick Quayson (Hasaacas second best scorer last term with four goals) and fan favorite Theophilus Nyame.
Overall, their quality in depth stays the same and they will be a difficult side to overcome especially at Essipong stadium only if off-field issues are settled in time. All Stars have the best of records as far as this particular fixture is concern, winning five, drawing three and succumbing to two losses.
I call this one in favor of the hosts, taking into consideration their Saudi Arabian exploits and unyielding nature at home.
Prediction: All Stars 2-0 Sekondi Hasaacas
Techiman City FC vs Berekum Chelsea – Techiman, Feb. 21
Techiman City’s promotion and participation in this year’s PL has been a bit uncertain following their demotion to the tier two division over bribery allegations by the FA Ethics Committee. A stay of execution from the courts will however allow them to start the season with legal acrimony on their minds.
They will celebrate their re-entry into the top-flight division by rolling out the welcome mat to Berekum Chelsea at the rehabilitated Techiman Park in the first derby of the season.
Chelsea looks destined for a mid-table position. A top four finish is seemingly impossible in my opinion but it's up to them to prove me wrong.
Techiman will be counting on experienced striker Stephen Manu to rise up to the occasion while experienced returnee striker Sadick Adams is expected not to make Berekum Chelsea regret selling top scorer Kofi Owusu abroad.
Prediction: Techiman City 1-2 Berekum Chelsea
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