By Gideon Boakye Botwe
Kotoko missed out on an early Confederation Cup quarter-final berth on Sunday as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Al Hilal at the Baba Yara Stadium.
The Porcupines needed a win by any margin to advance to the next stage of the competition following Nkana FC's emphatic 3-0 win over Zesco United in the other Group C game in Kitwe, Zambia.
But the Porcupines blew the chance as they laboured to level up Bakhet Hamid's 32nd-minute header with Songne Yacouba's header in the 85th minute.
Charles Kwablan Akonnor's men now sit third in the group with seven points and would have to win against Zesco United in the last group game in Zambia to stand any chance of qualifying.
The result would even be dependent on the outcome of the Al Hilal and Nkana FC game as a win for the latter would eliminate the Porcupines.
Amos Frimpong returned to the starting-XI after sitting out of the 3-0 win over Nkana FC, due to suspension, to push Augustine Sefah to the bench.
Agyemang Badu, who was also benched in the previous game, returned to the starting-XI as replacement of the injured, Abdul Ganiyu.
Spurred on by the noisy home crowd, the Porcupines controlled the early minutes of the game though they failed to make good of the early openings that came their way.
Emmanuel Gyamfi had the ball cleared off his feet from within the danger zone, Wahab Adams headed Martin Antwi’s corner kick a whisker of the crossbar before Emmanuel Gyamfi shot across the face of goal after feeding on Kwame Bonsu's long pass to dribble his way into Hilal penalty box.
Felix Annan came to Kotoko’s rescue in the 20th minute with the visitors’ first incursion of the game when he dived to tip Aber Abdalla’s strike, out of the sight of goal before Boubacar Diarra shot the rebound into the side net.
Fatawu shot wide from an offside position on the half-hour mark, and a quick restart saw the visitors attack from the left to produce a cross through Musah Eldai which landed on Bhaket Hamid for a header into the net.
Kotoko pushed for the equaliser and Songne Yacouba lurked on Felix Annan’s long kick into the hosts’ penalty area to lob the ball at the blind side of goalkeeper Salim Mogoola and Mohamed Ahmed, but his efforts flew over the bar.
Emmanuel Gyamfi had what arguably was Kotoko’s best chance of the half when he latched onto Abdul Fatawu’s shot across to connect the ball over the bar.
C. K. Akonnor replaced Martin Antwi with Obed Owusu in the 43rd minute as Kotoko pushed for the equaliser that remained elusive until referee Tessema Weyesa closed the first half.
The Porcupines began the second half just as they did in the first, pressing and spreading the game wide, but struggling to create openings.
Abdul Fatawu grazed the crossbar twice in twice in the second half, and Boubacar Diarra missed the crossbar by inches on the hour mark, having lurked onto Agyemang Badu’s poor clearance.
Kotoko continued to press but still lacked openings, and Hamid nearly made it two for Al Hilal in the 76th minute, but his thunderbolt was parried over the bar by goalkeeper Annan.
Emmanuel Gyamfi had a penalty appeal denied in the 85th minute when a defender chased him into the penalty box to pull him down, and a minute barely passed when Yacouba headed home the equaliser to send the fans into a frenzy mood and anticipation for the winning goal which did could not come.
Kotoko Line-up: Felix Annan, Amos Frimpong, Daniel Darkwah, Wahab Adams, Agyemang Badu/Stephen Nyarko, Kwame Bonsu/Daniel Nii Adjei, Emmanuel Agyemang Badu, Umar Basiru, Songne Yacouba, Abdul Fatawu, Martin Antwi/Obed Owusu
Unused Bench: Muntari Tagoe, Augustine Sefah, Habib Mohammed, Kwame Boahene
Al Hilal Line-up: Salim Mogoola, Mohamed Ahmed, Boubacar Diarra, Musa Eldai/Mahmoud Mohammed, Bakhet Hamid, Ahmed Morsal, Omer Abdalla, Eldin Shaiboub, Eldin Ahmed, Osman Ismeil/Yagoub Mohamed, Babikir Mohammed/Chuku Ariwa
Unused Bench: Younis Ali, Mohamed Osman, Mahmoud Mohamed, Diniz Silva