CAF Champions League: Kano Pillars 3-2 Asante Kotoko – Rabiu Ali inspires comeback

Captain Rabiu Ali scored with an overhead kick as Kano Pillars came from behind to beat Asante Kotoko 3-2 in the first leg Caf Champions League preliminary round clash at Sani Abacha Stadium, Kano on Saturday.

Sai Masu Gida opened the scoring 11 minutes into the game through Rahaqqu Adam and held on to a 1-0 advantage until half-time.

However, the Porcupines came strong in the second half as goals from Justice Blay and then Godfred Asiamah looked like they were going to steal a famous 2-1 win in Nigeria.

Pillars are aware they still have a huge task ahead of them as they head for the second leg in Kumasi in a fortnight, having conceded two goals at home in Saturday’s thrilling encounter.

With four of his regular players not registered for this preliminary round, coach Ibrahim Musa expectedly tweaked his usual attacking set-up.

Nwagua Nyima was paired up front with Rahaqqu with captain Ali behind the two strikers.

Coach Kjetil Zachariassen also named a strong starting line-up for Kotoko having promised a solid away performance.

Justice Blay, Samuel Frimpong, Emmanuel Gyamfi and George Abege were all handed starting roles by the manager.

Pillars were dominant in the early exchanges and after a series of attacking pressure on the Kotoko defence, they got the opening goal in the 11th minute through Rahaqqu who hit a low shot from inside the box.

Despite the early opening goal, Pillars were unable to increase their advantage as they failed to utilise the other chances they created until half time.

Those missed chances by Pillars in the first half proved costly as the Porcupines came out smoking in the second half and ten minutes after the restart, the visitors got a deserved equaliser.

Blay, who had been threatening all day, kept his head down to produce a low header beyond the helpless Kano Pillars goalkeeper Suraj Ayeleso to restore parity for his team.

While Pillars tried to get back in front as fast as they could, they committed some needless fouls and they were punished in the 67th minute for one of their rash challenges.

Asiamah won a free-kick after he was illegally halted in his run towards the penalty box.

The winger dusted himself for the resulting kick and hit it straight into the net to give Kotoko a shock 2-1 lead.

From then it was Pillars all the way as their vociferous fans cheered them on and captain Ali came to the rescue with his 70th-minute bicycle kick before Gambo sealed victory with another goal moments after.

Despite Saturday’s win, Pillars are still walking a tightrope in their quest to progress to the next stage as they would be faced with a stern test in the second leg in Kumasi in a fortnight.

The winners after the two-legged tie between Pillars and Kotoko are billed to face Hafia FC of Guinea or Tunisian club Etoile du Sahel in the next stage.