OPINION: FIVE reasons why Hearts suffered massive defeat to Esperance

GHANAsoccernet.com’s Ameenu Shardow watched Hearts of Oak’s massive slump against Esperance in their CAF Confederation Cup clash on Sunday and reflects on the main reasons for the heavy defeat in Tunis.

Lack of Belief
From the word go Hearts of Oak never believed they could make it this far in the competition and even more crucially go to Tunis to get a desired result against Esperance. To perform on the African stage needs a lot of calculations and investment. And though Hearts owner Togbe Afede XIV has been hailed for committing funds to their African campaign, it’s woefully inadequate. The priority for the club ahead of their trip to face Esperance in a crucial game was about how to beat down the size of the delegation to save cost. Essential personnel such as psychologist, the club’s official spokesperson were chunked off the traveling party. Clubs who invest heavily on such details are always leading performers in African Inter-club competitions. They dish out the cash in a ‘gamble’ because they preserve some belief that they will win the tournament to recoup if not all, portions of monies spent. This austerity measure by Hearts’ top hierarchy finds its way into the head of the players leading to such mediocre performance. Hearts’ worsening form as the game progresses was solely based on the increasingly dwindling belief amongst the players and technical staff.

Herbert Addo got his tactics so wrong on the day
Even though Hearts are heavily challenged financially as compared to Esperance, there were times during the game where they really competed. The first five minutes was depressingly poor for the Phobians. Esperance could have scored lot less than three but for the profligacy of Samuel Eduok who ended up hitting a brace. Herbert Addo put out an uncertain strategy, not knowing whether to either open up in search of an important away goal or shut up shop. They were caught up in between the two. It showed clearly when Hearts had possession, not knowing what to clearly do with the ball. Addo also must take responsibility for his failure to adequately neutralize the threat of Harrison Afful who played in midfield until the final seven minutes or so when he reverted to a more defensive role having done all the damages. In the opening seven minutes, Afful had supplied three incisive passes into Hearts’ dangerous area. Samuel Eduok who scored a brace was the worst culprit of Esperance’s profligacy upfront. Isaac Oduro who played in a full back position was badly leaking and yet still Herbert Addo stood helpless on the touchline. Why he kept Foovi Aguidi and Gilbert Fiamenyo up front for over 70 minutes beat my imagination. The pair had not recorded a shot on target the whole of the first half despite finding themselves on a few occasions in good scoring positions. Aside Foovi’s feeble header two minutes into the restart, I struggle to recall any more meaningful contribution he made. Eric Kumi and Thomas Abbey who came on for the remaining 15 minutes or so were more effective that the entire time Fiamenyo and Aguidi were on the pitch.

Robin Gnagne was very poor
Robin Gnagne’s shambolic performance
The otherwise assured Hearts captain was spectacularly poor on the night. The first goal for instance is something the Ivorian import will be particularly embarrassed at. He was outmuscled off a through ball on a retreat by Samuel Eduok surprisingly with cheeky ease. He never showed leadership and good organization at the back and offered absolutely nothing the few times he went forward for set pieces. It is a game Gnagne will want to forget in a haste.

Abdoulaye Soulama heroics undone
Abdoulaye Soulama was the brightest spot as far as Hearts was concerned. This tells you the amount of pressure the Burkina Faso goalkeeper was under from the blast of the whistle. It was simply down to Soulama vrs Esperance in the first seven minutes of the game. They were taking shots at will and he was saving them in more spectacular fashion but surely at a diminishing rate. He was getting worked all over and had to give it up at a point. By the time Samuel Eduok slid in the opener, Soulama had made about five good saves by my count. He just couldn’t take it anymore. I dare say he is the only player out of that traveling team to hold up his head up very high. He did a yo-man’s job but was undone by his teammates who were supposed to protect him.

Abdoulaye Soulama impressed
Miracle of Accra doable
I am sure a lot of you will be astonished by this position but I sincerely believe Hearts can find a way to overturn this massive deficit and qualify for the money zone when they host Esperance in the return leg on June 7 in Accra. It is for no reason that Esperance were kicked out of the CAF Champions League by a more organized and tactically astute El Merriekh. The Tunisian side are far from the formidable side we know, they are not that special. Hearts were depressingly poor but yet still had flashes of good chances they failed to make good use of. Perhaps the young Hearts team were intimidated by the half-filled stadium in Rades and suffered stage fright. Take that experience plus the vital lessons learnt from the first leg failures and with some good luck, Hearts should be able to overturn the scores but not without some serious hard work. In that regard, I wish them well.

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