RIYADH: Africa has not yet finished the semifinals of its Champions League but the announcement on Monday that the final will take place in Morocco has not gone down well with Egypt whose football governing body is ready to take the matter to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Last weekend, Cairo giants Al-Ahly defeated ES Setif of Algeria 4-0 in the first leg at home to put more than one foot in the final and stay on course for a third successive continental title providing they avoid disaster in Algiers on Saturday (though Setif prepared for the return leg by thrashing Relizane 7-0 in the league on Tuesday).
In the other last-four clash, Wydad Casablanca won 3-1 away at Petro de Luanda of Angola and returning to Morocco for the second leg on Friday, are odds-on to book their spot in the final which will take place on May 30.
On Monday, just 48 hours after the first legs had been played, the Confederation of African Football announced that Morocco would be the host country for the final for the second year in succession.
A CAF spokesman said: “CAF received bids from Senegal and Morocco, and, after the subsequent withdrawal of the Senegalese bid, Morocco has been awarded the hosting rights.”
With the final likely to be between Al-Ahly and Morocco’s Wydad, there was widespread anger at the decision in Egypt. In a letter to CAF, Al-Ahly called for the game to be played elsewhere.
In a statement, the club said: “Al-Ahly highlighted in the letter that the final should not be hosted by one of the countries of the four teams competing in the CAF Champions League semifinals and a neutral venue will provide equal chances for the four teams.
“Al-Ahly stressed that the game should be held in a neutral venue, since CAF did not choose the hosting country in an earlier stage, noting that giving one of the four teams the home advantage in the final contradicts the fair play standards.
“Al-Ahly expressed their full trust in CAF’s professionalism and fairness and their commitment to preserving equal rights for the four competing teams.”
Al-Ahly coach Pitso Mosimane has led the team to the past two continental titles and took to social media to comment on the decision.
In a post, he said: “When the CAF Champions League group stages games were finished, rumors were saying SA (South Africa) is hosting. After the semifinals games were decided, there was a loud silence on the country to host the final. Then, after the first leg of the semifinals, suddenly Morocco is hosting.”
The club’s stance has been backed by the Egyptian Football Association.
EFA board member, Amer Hussein, said: “The decision to choose the venue came late, after playing the semifinal first-leg matches, and this is strange. It would have been better to hold the final in a neutral stadium or announce it early during the tournament.
“The timing of the match itself is illogical. How can the Champions League final take place shortly before national teams are in international action?”
Egypt are scheduled to take on Guinea in Cairo on June 2 in the opening game of qualification for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, just 48 hours after the Champions League final. Several Al-Ahly players are members of the national team.
Behind the scenes, CAF officials have been briefing that they had no choice in the matter as only Morocco was left after Senegal had withdrawn. Unlike Europe, where final venues are announced years in advance and there are usually a number of interested parties, Africa has struggled to attract neutral venues.
The confederation is considering a return to the old home and away two-legged format to avoid such controversies in the future.
Understandably, Wydad AC coach Walid Regragui was at pains to point out that his team had not yet booked their place in the final and equally keen to stress that the two-time champions did not mind where it took place.
He said: “We are ready to play anywhere. The CAF decided to play the final in Morocco, and we should respect their decision. It is not important for us where the final will take place. We are ready to play in Dakar, in Istanbul, or in any other place. We earned four away wins in this edition, and we are ready to grab a fifth.”
Assuming that both Al-Ahly and Wydad get through the second legs, there is sure to be more wrangling to come before the end of the month.