Nabil Kouki extended his unbeaten away run in CAF club competitions since 2015 by guiding Al Hilal to a 1-1 stalemate at the Baba Yara Sports Stadium on Sunday, neutralizing the tactical prowess of CK Akonnor and almost dragging him on the ground.
A 32nd minute strike by striker Waleed Hamid was canceled by Songne Yacouba five minutes to end proceedings to share the spoils for the two sides.
A well-organised Al Hilal side approached the game at the Baba Yara Sports Stadium with tact and an artful game plan to frustrate the Porcupine Warriors in a game that left Akonnor panting.
But how did Nabil Kouki mastermind such a brilliant outing on Sunday against CK Akonnor and his charges.
FootballMadeInGhana.com takes a look into the tactical battle of the two coaches and how they threw their punches against each other.
Static Formation for Asante Kotoko: 4-4-1-1 (4-4-2)
CK Akonnor was forced to alter his squad due to injuries to almost all his key players but that did not change his static formation on the field.
Felix Annan started in post and was provided a shield by Amos Frimpong on the right, Daniel Darkwah on the left with Agyemang Badu and Wahad Adams playing at the heart of defence for the first time in the competition.
Kwame Bonsu and Omar Bashiru were handed the central midfield role with Martin Antwi and Emmanuel Gyamfi playing on the left and right sides of midfield.
Songne Yacouba led the attack and was provided support by Abdul Fatawu Shafiu.
Static Formation for Al Hilal: 4-4-2 (4:5:1)
Nabil Kouki employed a similar static formation with a defensive variation (4:5:1) to neutralize CK Akonnor’s.
Salim Magoola started between the sticks and was provided shield by Babikir Mohammed, Saeed Osman Ismail, Ibrahim Ahmed and Omer Abdallah.
Boubacar Diarra and Ali Abdelrahman played in central midfield while Abdallah Ahmed and Nasireldin Ahmed played from the flanks with Waleed Hamid and Musah Eldai leading the attack.
CK Akonnor as usual started with a game plan not to concede a goal but score at least two quick ones to move atop the Group C table but Nabil Kouki read his mind excellently.
Akonnor’s strategy was to be very aggressive in their attack, push hard with speed and precision to break Al Hilal before the half hour mark as they did against Nkana a week ago.
But Nabil Kouki had other plans.
The game plan of Al Hilal was to keep a clean sheet within the first 30 minutes of the game, knowing how prolific Kotoko have been within that period.
Their strategy, which worked perfectly, was to eat away the first 30 minutes of the game, exhaust Kotoko’s energy and push the game to travel beyond the 30-minute mark.
That was to frustrate Kotoko and punish them after that period.
It explains why Al Hilal players were falling on the field to wear away time in the early minutes of the game.
With this game plan, Al Hilal were calm in the game, did not show signs of nervousness and were very confident with the ball. They doubled men upfront as soon as they had the ball and tripled or quadrupled when they lost possession.
Asante Kotoko were left to use their own energy against themselves – and that was to keep possession in their own half and not in the half of Al Hilal since Hilal had about 8 men always behind the ball to defend their goal area.
Nabil Kouki knew the powerhouses of Asante Kotoko, hence found an antedote to Martin Antwi and Emmanuel Gyamfi on the flanks and allowing Boubacar Diarra and Ali Abdulrahman to keep a close eye on Kwame Bonsu – the engine room for Asante Kotoko.
Having more men in midfield only meant that Asante Kotoko could only possess at their own half where Hilal had just a man to chase the balls.
While doing that, Hilal relied a lot on counter attacks and that proved overly dangerous for the Porcupine Warriors anytime they unleased such attacks.
In Kotoko’s previous games, I noted that the Reds struggle to defend long balls and also swift attacks from counters.
In their game with ZESCO United, Kotoko conceded a penalty from a long ball and a swift attack, and also conceded a goal from same. So Nabil Kouki knew Kotoko had a problem in dealing with those balls.
Al Hilal, after pushing Kotoko beyond the 30th minute mark then realised Akonnor and his men were frustrated and that meant they (Al Hilal) have had their game plan in perfect position.
Their goal, which came in the 32nd minute was from a counter attacking situation and Felix Annan was forced to make many timely saves from similar attacks.
CK Akonnor will have to work on that since it’s becoming clearer that his side struggles in defending counter attacks and long balls.
That said, Akonnor responded very well but his response was in relation to Kotoko’s attacking options.
The strategy was that, if the Al Hilal defenders go under huge pressure, the midfield will be forced to defend deep limiting the potency of their attack, hence introducing Obed Owusu for Martin Antwi even before the break.
Obed’s job was not to necessarily score, (of course he will score if the chance had come) but to subject the Al Hilal defenders to quick high pressing and allow Yacouba to play as a lead attacker.
So when Obed came on, Kotoko resorted to a 4-3-3 system, strengthening their attack to restore parity and they had it, despite coming very late in the game.
The three men upfront subjected the Al Hilal defenders to incessant attacks and that resulted in what appeared a penalty on Gyamfi and the late goal by Yacouba.
CK Akonnor may have gotten a point from the game, but trust me, he’ll surely pick huge lessons from the clash and will have to work harder to break such oppositions as his coaching career climbs up.