The Phobians had failed twice in the grand finale of the most prestigious African clubs’ competition in 1977 and 1979 under the chairmanship of Tommy Thompson, who coined the term Continental Club Masters (CCM) to propel the team to continental title.
20th Anniversary: Hearts thrash Esperance 3-1 to emerge champions of Africa
On 17th December, 2000, which is exactly 20 years today, Accra Hearts of Oak reigned supreme over the north African giant, Esperance, to win their first ever continental trophy.
However, they had to wait until the 21st century under the leadership of Harry Zakkour as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Ato Ahwoi as Board Chairman, with Jones Cecil Attoquayefio as the Coach, to accomplish the vision of Tommy Thompson in the 1970’s, by becoming the true Continental Club Masters.
The road to this unprecedented feat by a Ghanaian club
The journey to this great feat began in March when Hearts of Oak knocked out Horoya AC of Guinea 4 -3 on aggregate, before piping DC Motema Pembe of DR Congo 4 -3 on aggregate in the second round to reach the CAF Champions’ League group stage/money zone.
They were drawn in group ‘B’ along with Lobi Stars, El Ahly and Jeanne d’Arc. The Continental Club Masters scored a late minute goal through Emmanuel Donkor in their maiden Champions’ League group game against El Ahly in Accra. The North African giants took the lead before Hearts of Oak fought from behind to win the game by 2-1.
They matched on with two successive away victories against Jeanne d’Arc in Senegal. A game Ishmael Addo scored a hat-trick, the first away hat-trick in the competition’s history, before dismissing Lobi Stars 2-0 in Nigeria, to complete the first round of the group games.
They started the second half of the group stage by beating Lobi Stars 2-0 in the return fixture, before settling for a 1-1 draw in Egypt against Ahly and finishing off at home with another 1-1 draw against Jeanne d’Arc.
The competition at that time had no room for semi-finals, so the winner of group ‘A’ (Esperance) booked a date with Hearts of Oak the winner of group ‘B’. The Ghanaian side went unbeaten in the group stage, which was the first time a club, did so and only two champions have since followed suit, and these are Ahly in 2005 and 2008 and Esperance in 2011.
The first leg was played on December 2, 2000 in Tunis and Esperance lost 1-2 to Hearts of Oak.
Hearts of Oak beat Esperance at their own backyard with 10 men, after Amankwa Mireku was sent off in the 63rd minute. The Tunisian side drew the first blood in the 36th minute, before Ishmael Addo and Osei Kuffour’s 52nd and 79th minute goals respectively overturned the scoreline in favour of the Phobians.
The second leg that enabled Hearts players to ‘Kiss the Cup’ was played on Sunday, December 17, 2000 and it ended was 3 - 1 in favour of Hearts of Oak.
Hassen Gabsi’s 12-minute goal shook the Accra Sports Stadium, but three late goals from the feet of Osei Kuffour, who scored two goals in the 83rd and 89th minutes, and Ishmael Addo in the 90th minute won the Champions League for the Phobians.
The game was almost marred by the teargas incident and Chokri El Ouaer’s drama, which eventually led to a year ban for Hearts of Oak at the Accra Sports Stadium from continental assignments and a ban for the Tunisian goalkeeper for deliberately injuring himself.
Emmanuel Osei Kuffour, the hero of the final won the top scorer of the 2000 CAF Champions League, with 10 goals to his credit.
The Hearts of Oak team that played the second leg final against that Esperance — 1.Sammy Adjei, 6. Dan Quaye, 5. Jacob Nettey, 15. Edward Agyeman-Duah, 17.Stephen Tetteh, 14. Joe Ansah, 12. Charles Allotey (10. Emmanuel Adjogu 46), 9-Adjah Tetteh (4. Edmond Copson 67), 18. Ishmael Addo, 3. Emmanuel Osei Kuffour, 8. Charles Taylor (13. Osmanu Amadu 73).
Esperance squad against Hearts in the second leg final
1. Chokri El Ouaer (Maher Kanzari 85), 7.Tarek Thabet (5. Faycal Ben Ahmed 85), 17. Walid Azaiez, 15. Radhi Jaidi, 3. Hakim Nouira, 4. Mohamed Bedhiafi, 8. Hassen Gabsi, 11. Mourad Melki (2-Taoufik Hammami 69), 14. Adailton, 10. Reinaldo, 9. Ali Zitouni.
Other successes came the way of the Phobians after champions league triumph
Hearts won the Super Cup against Zamalek in Kumasi and in February 2001, Hearts were rated the eighth (8th) best club in the World in the CNN/World soccer weekly Top ten10. The 2000 CAF Champions League winning coach with Hearts of Oak, Jones Attuquayefio, was named the CAF Coach of the Year, 2000 for his impressive achievement.