In a season-defining game played against the backdrop of controversy, refereeing mistakes and scandalous CAF decisions managed to make the second leg even more dishonorable.
Rabat – Wydad Athletic Club (WAC) suffered a loss in yesterday’s match against ES Tunisia that will go down as an unforgettable scandal in the history of the African football.
Following a 1-1 tie during the first leg of Africa’s Champions League final in Rabat, WAC failed to take home the African Champions League title. This loss had to do more with a scandalous CAF decision than a case of WAC failing to deliver.
Although WAC players were under an unprecedented amount of pressure, they displayed composure and a high level of professionalism while delivering better performance in comparison to the first leg of the final in Rabat on May 24.
The first goal attempt from Wydad was in the 32nd minute of play. The second was in the 35th minute.
After few failed attempts to score, ES Tunis scored first by its forward, Youcef Belaili, at the 42nd minute of play.
Wydad leveled the score following a head kick at the 59th minute by the midfielder Walid el Karti. The referee, Bakari Gassama, dismissed the equalizer for an inexistent offside. WAC players demanded the Gambian referee consult the Video Assistant Referee (VAR).
For the second time in two years, VAR turned out to have technical issues. This left the referees indecisive about WAC’s goal. As a result, WAC players refused to continue the game until the problem was fixed.
After an interruption of more than an hour, the referee announced the end of the match, unfairly granting ES Tunis the 2019 African Champions League title.
Repeating last year’s scenario
In addition to CAF’s astounding failure to ensure that the rules of fair play were respected, officials of the Tunisian club are also to blame for the malfunction of the VAR.
In a statement to Egyptian club Al Ahly’s official website, former CAF Secretary-General Amr Fahmy said that ES Tunis officials broke the VAR during last year’s African Champions League final between Al Ahly SC and ES Tunis. Due to the Egyptian club’s poor performance and the absence of controversial refereeing mistakes, however, “nobody noticed”.
“I knew that the VAR would be broken in the first leg between Al Ahly and ES Tunis and I informed Al Ahly’s officials and the problem was solved,” stressed Amr Fahmy.
Following yesterday’s scandal, the manager of TP Mazembe Frederic Kitenge decried the referee’s performance and lashed out at CAF President Ahmad Ahmad.
In a tweet, Kitenge said that Gassama’s performance during the first leg of the CAF Champions League semi-final was “mediocre” and TP Mazembe suffered from the referee’s bias in favor of the ES Tunis.
In a second tweet, Kitenge criticized CAF’s decision to appoint the same referee to officiate two consecutive home matches for the same club.
“Gassama was in the semi-final in Rades and here he is in the final in the same stadium,” tweeted Kitenge.
In a third tweet, the TP Mazembe manager said that the game was suspended for more than 20 minutes and no decision was made. The refusal of WAC’s goal “should have been verified by the VAR instead of the CAF President showing up on the pitch to discuss with the Moroccan coach.”
Ahmad tried to convince the Moroccan team and officials to resume the game, but his attempt was met with refusal.
WAC was not the only Moroccan football club that suffered from arbitrary refereeing. The same scenario happened with RS Berkane during the African Confederation final against Egypt’s Zamalek.
The Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF) has sent a letter to the CAF executive body, protesting the “scandalous” and “shameful” refereeing that cost the Moroccan team a final it should have won had the referee “respected the technical rules of the game.”