Wednesday Aug 07, 2019. 19:05
By Mark Gleeson
Esperance are the winners of the 2019 African Champions League after all, their victory in the final on May 31 being verified on Wednesday by the Confederation of African Football.
CAF’s disciplinary committee ruled the Tunisian club victors after finding Wydad Casablanca of Morocco had walked off the field and were guilty of abandoning the second leg of the final in Tunis.
This reverses an earlier decision by the CAF executive committee to order a replay of the disputed second leg, where the Moroccan side refused to play on after a technical fault with the Video Assistant Referee system.
Both clubs had appealed to the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration in Sport, who last week found that the CAF executive committee had erred in their decision and ordered the case be heard instead by CAF’s disciplinary committee – an quasi-independent body.
But in keeping with the bizzare twists and turns of the saga Esperance were fined more of than Wydad, with the Moroccans also unexplicably escaping a ban from the next two editions.
Wydad received a $20 000 fine for abandoning the match and a further $15 000 for the use of flares by supporters while Esperance were handed a stiffer $50 000 fine for use of flares and the throwing of projectiles by their supporters.
The two teams had drawn 1-1 in the first leg of the final in Casablanca and Esperance were 1-0 up in the return match when Wydad netted what they thought was a 59th-minute equaliser.
Yet the referee ruled it out for offside and turned down animated appeals from the Wydad players to consult the VAR because the system was not working.
Wydad refused to continue and the argument continued on the pitch between the teams and officials for some two hours before the game was called off and Esperance were awarded the trophy.
Unsavoury bickering, even involving CAF president Ahmad who had come down to the touchline to try and resolve the matter, painted African football in a poor light
Then CAF’s executive committee said the second leg must be replayed on neutral territory, a decision made after a meeting in Paris five days later.
Esperance appealed to CAS to be reinstated as champions after Wydad’s walk off, while the Moroccans argued they should be declared winners or, alternatively, both legs of the final be annulled and a single replay ordered. CAS said it rejected Wydad’s argument, which gives them little hope of winning an appeal they might now launch.