Ghana football legend Abedi Pele will coach at international level for the first time next year when his club Nania FC compete for the 2012 CAF Confederation Cup. A UEFA Champions League medal winner with Marseille two decades ago, the slightly built midfielder was the outstanding African footballer of the early 1990s and topped the CAF Footballer of the Year poll three times.
Club president Pele says he also coaches second division Nania - a mainly youthful team captained by defender Lawrence Lartey - to repay his country for the opportunities it gave him. Nania qualified for the second-tier Pan-African competition by shocking top-flight Asante Kotoko 1-0 in the Ghana FA Cup final courtesy of a spectacular Evans Omani extra-time goal.
So while Kotoko and equally famous Hearts of Oak must settle for domestic football fare next year, Nania aim to make an impact beyond the borders of the west African nation. "Winning the FA Cup was great," admits Pele, whose professional career included spells at Niort, Mulhouse, Marseille, Lille and Lyon in France, Torino in Italy and 1860 Munich in Germany.
"We waited 13 years for our first title and worked hard to reach this level. Our strategy was to play like Barcelona - tight in defence, giving Kotoko no room to play their usual game. Kotoko are a great team and it is always hard to beat them. You have to be strong tactically and technically to defeat Asante. Our tactical awareness was high and made the difference."
Pele said he would rely on the cup-winning squad for the African campaign because new signings would use financial resources needed to cover Confederation Cup expenses. "We have conquered Ghana so let us now try and conquer Africa. This is a fresh challenge for everyone at the club. Our task is to prepare physically, mentally and tactically."
The draw for the three qualifying rounds of a competition won by Moghreb Fes of Morocco last weekend is scheduled for mid-December in Cairo and Nania are bound to attract attention despite many big-name entrants. Among clubs set to compete are former African champions Entente Setif and JS Kabylie of Algeria, Club Africain of Tunisia, Ismailia of Egypt, ASEC Mimosas of Ivory Coast, Wydad Casablanca of Morocco and Union Douala of Cameroon.
Another powerful entrant are CS Sfaxien of Tunisia, the only club to win the Confederation Cup twice since its 2004 inauguration, and CODM Meknes will be watched closely as unfancied Moroccan sides won the last two editions. After three two-leg elimination rounds between February and May, the eight survivors face the losers from the final CAF Champions League qualifiers with group places at stake.
Following six rounds of mini-league action there are semi-finals and a final staged on a home-and-away basis with the winners pocketing 660,000 dollars and a place in the CAF Super Cup against the Champions League title holders.