JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Nov 1 – Video assistant referees (VAR) will be used in the CAF Champions League final for the first time Friday when Al Ahly of Egypt host Esperance of Tunisia in the first leg.
The system allows off-field referees to assist match officials regarding goals, penalty and straight red card decisions, and mistaken identity when awarding red and yellow cards.
VAR has been used once before in Africa, for the 2018 CAF Super Cup match between Wydad Casablanca of Morocco and TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
While VAR has been both lauded and loathed by footballers and officials, its use at the World Cup in Russia this year was considered “largely successful” by FIFA.
“We used it for the Super Cup last February without any hitches and are delighted to go a step further,” CAF general secretary Amr Fahmy said.
“This is another historic moment for African football. CAF is determined to use the latest innovative technologies available.”
Record eight-time champions Ahly and twice trophy-holders Esperance have met 16 times at various stages of the Champions League, starting with two goalless 1990 qualifiers.
The most controversial refereeing decision came in a 2010 semi-final when Nigerian Michael Eneramo clearly handled when scoring the goal that won the tie for Esperance.
It was scant consolation to Ahly that the Ghanaian referee who allowed the goal to stand in Tunisia was banned.
Ahly and Esperance go into the two-leg title decider — the second leg is on November 9 in Tunisia — knowing a great deal about each other having also met in the group stage.
After a 0-0 draw in Egypt, Ahly won the return match 1-0 through a goal from Morocco-born Walid Azaro, one of six he netted in the Champions League this season.
Anice Badri of Esperance has scored one more with his seventh coming five minutes from time to secure overall victory in a dramatic semi-final against Primeiro Agosto of Angola.
Other potential match-winners in Alexandria and Rades include Haythem Jouini of Esperance, who has come off the bench to score vital goals.
– ‘Unjustified criticism’ –
Walid Soliman of Ahly is another, firing two of the three goals that took the ‘Cairo Red Devils’ past Entente Setif of Algeria in the semi-finals.
A key factor in the consistent success of north African clubs in CAF competitions is the number of top quality goalkeepers the region boasts.
So, it was unusual that rival coaches Patrice Carteron of Ahly and Mouine Chaabani of Esperance had to defend their shot-stoppers after the semi-finals.
Both Mohamed el Shenawy of Ahly and Rami Jeridi of Esperance conceded soft second-leg goals that, fortunately for them, did not prevent their clubs progressing.
“I trust Mohamed, who often faces unjustified criticism,” said Carteron, a Champions League-winning coach in 2015 with Mazembe.
The first French coach of Ahly was more concerned about missed scoring chances in both legs against Setif.
“Wasted opportunities could have affected the semi-final outcome and I have once again reminded my players how important it is to convert easy chances.”
While Carteron has guided Ahly since June when Hossam el Badry quit after a group stage loss in Uganda, Chaabani has been coach for just one CAF fixture.
Khaled Ben Yahia was sacked soon after the first leg loss to Primeiro and his assistant promoted to one of the hottest seats in African club football.
“The Primeiro matches were nerve wracking and I hope my players have learnt a lot of valuable lessons from them,” he said.
“As we prepare to face a great club like Ahly it is crucial that we believe in ourselves and are prepared to fight until the final whistle in Egypt and Tunisia.”
Apart from a $2.5 million (2.2 mn euros) prize, the African champions qualify for the 2018 FIFA Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates, which guarantees at least another $1 mn.