After seven seasons out of continental competition, Aduana Stars are preparing to do battle on two fronts this campaign, but will the reigning GPL champions be able to cope with injuries, suspensions and fatigue?
The Ogya Club will begin the 2018 season straight from pre-season with a tough fixture after they were drawn against Libyan side Al Tahady in the preliminary round of the Caf Champions League on February 9 in Alexandria, Egypt.
With the new season yet to kick off in Ghana, coach Yussif Abubakar has only the Ghalca G8 tournament and the Super Cup matches played to prepare his team, although he has been busy in the transfer market.
The club were eliminated in the group stage of the G8, raising concerns about their preparedness but, they rose early from their slumber to pip Kotoko 1-0 in the Super Cup last week to at least end a mixed preseason on a high note.
They can take optimism from the way they have responded to the departures of three key players—Wahab Adams, Daniel Darkwah to Asante Kotoko and Godfred Saka to newly promoted Karela United FC—in the transfer market.
Abubakar has brought in two excellent replacements in the shape of Hafiz Adams and Caleb Amankwaa, from Wa All Stars and Wafa respectively, to fill the void left behind by former captain Saka, while Paul Aidoo (above) replaces Adams from Medeama, with Farouk Mohammed as his backup.
On the left side of defence, Justice Anane was snapped up from regional rivals Berekum Chelsea to replace Darkwah, while Aspe FC's Oba Ikama Ulitch, Wafa's former marksman Emmanuel Boateng and the return of Yahaya Mohammed from Azam FC have bolstered their attack.
There’s no denying that playing in the Champions League can play havoc with a team’s fixture list.
Aduana will definitely have more outstanding fixtures in the local game when the season finally begins, depending on their progress, as travelling within Africa requires several days of preparation and transit at times.
Their opening-day match at home against Liberty Professionals will coincide with their Champions League first leg fixture away in Egypt, while the next game against Elmina Sharks and Wafa fall within the period they will honour the return game of the Champions League.
How will the Stars be able to handle the toil of travel while they try to start the season strongly?
Of course, many Ghanaians believe that Aduana are in the Champions League this year as a ‘second-level’ side to make up the numbers alongside clubs like Al Ahly, Zamalek SC, Etoile du Sahel and Tout Puissant Mazembe.
However, they don't expect the Dormaa Ahenkro-based club to exit in the preliminary round like their predecessors Wa All Stars.
Yet, just like Wa All Stars, the reigning champs can probably have to expect to move away from home and use either Cape Coast Sports Stadium or Len Clay Sports Stadium in Obuasi, as their favoured Nana Agyemang Badu Park is still under construction and hasn't been approved by Caf's inspection team.
To what extent will this affect their gameplan and deny them home advantage?
In spite of this, coach Abubakar is brimming with confidence that they will become the first club since Berekum Chelsea in 2012, to at least reach the group stages.
Do you think that the Nana Agyemang Badu I Park ready to host Tahady in the preliminary round of the Caf Champions League? pic.twitter.com/BKFhBFqTI3— Evans Gyamera-Antwi (@ashesgyamera) January 28, 2018
"For some time now, no Ghanaian club has been able to get into the money zone (group stages) of the Champions League," Abubakar told Graphic Sports.
"This will be a very big challenge and if you look at the changed modalities now, you are to play two matches before you get to the group stage unlike the previous years when you play three games before you qualify.
"But that does not matter because you still have to qualify and that is our target,” he concluded. “I believe we have the players to make the group stage.”
Aduana have a long season ahead of them, and if care is not taken, the Champions League risks becoming a distraction to the detriment of their campaign on home soil.
Regional rivals Bechem United battled relegation last term as they tried to negotiate a Confederation Cup campaign, and Stars will be desperate to avoid a similar scenario.
Aduana probable XI (4-3-2-1 formation): Joseph Addo-Gk; Caleb Amankwah, Paul Aidoo, Stephen Anokye-Badu, Justice Annan; Noah Martey, Zakaria Mumuni, Elvis Opoku Sam Adams, Bright Agyei;Yahaya Mohammed
(4-3-3 formation) Joseph Addo-Gk; Caleb Amankwah, Paul Aidoo, Stephen Anokye-Badu, Justice Annan; Noah Martey, Zakaria Mumuni, Elvis Opoku; John Mohammed, Bright Agyei, Nathaniel Asamoah