Fifteen years ago when Hearts of Oak became continental champions, they did it in style; beating Esperance 2-1 in Tunis before sealing it off 3-1 in the return fixture in Accra to win the prestigious CAF Champions League in 2000.
Captain of the Hearts side that took the continent by storm, Jacob Nettey, led a gifted side that dazzled every step on the way into the history books.
On Sunday, 17 May 2015 at the Rades sports stadium in Tunis, the ‘Phobians’ clash with Tunisian champions, Esperance, in a repeat of the 2000 historic meeting and like many of the Ghanaians’ own supporters, Nettey is convinced it will take something special for the visitors to survive an onslaught.
Nettey looking back at their success in the new millennium told Cafonline about how Hearts defeated Esperance at their own backyard amidst countless frustrations that lasted their entire journey of the journey held at the famous El Menzah Stadium, once a fortress for the ‘Blood and Gold’.
The former captain who shared fond memories on their quest said: ‘We knew it was not going to be an easy match and we began preparing for that first leg two weeks to the match.
‘The weather was against us and to solve that problem we decided to pitch camp in Egypt for a week in order to acclimatize. The weather was so cold which was a direct opposite of ours here.
‘Once we arrived, we had issues with the quality of accommodation offered us and in the wee hours after our arrival, we were combing the city for something better.
‘By the time we settled down, we were already tired. Then following some issues, we could not train for the first two days after arrival. We finally trained on the third day and the fourth day the match was on.”
Nettey described the atmosphere at the stadium then as intimidating, insisting they were however, preoccupied with surviving the initial incessant attacks that was to greet them once the match got underway.
‘We had spent two weeks watching every match of Esperance and practicing how to deal with their early sustained threat. How to contain their threats from the flanks, and not to concede an early goal. It was our only way of survival and also ensured we carried on with hope of coming away with a win.
‘Once we played according to the strategy, we survived and won in a very special manner. It excited us. It strengthened our belief in ourselves and our campaign.’
Putting the spotlight on this weekend’s meeting, Nettey said Hearts will be the underdog over the two legs, insisting only mental fortitude could give his former side a chance to progress.
‘Esperance is far ahead of Hearts presently. Hearts have done well thus far but winning will be a big chore. It will require a good attitude, tough mental strength, complete focus and hard-work.
‘The odd is against them and how they respond in the first leg will be crucial to their going forward. To ensure progress, they must at least walk out of Tunis with a draw. That way they can stand a chance of travelling to the next stage.”
The return leg will be in Accra in three weeks time with the aggregate winner over both fixtures progressing to the group stage.
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