JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, Jul 22 – Major African league football will resume amid the coronavirus pandemic on July 27 in Morocco, with Tunisia, Egypt and South Africa set to follow soon after.
Every national championship, apart from the one in tiny east African state Burundi, shut down in mid-March as the COVID-19 disease took hold in the continent.
But officials now believe that football can resume behind closed doors provided stringent health protocols are observed.
Morocco will lead the way followed by Tunisia (August 2) and Egypt (August 6) while South Africa have yet to announce the date on which the richest league in Africa will restart.
AFP Sport reports on the situation in five of the six highest-ranked leagues — the Democratic Republic of Congo cancelled theirs in March rather than play a waiting game.
Three-time African champions Raja Casablanca will begin ‘operation catch-up’ this Monday when they make a 100-kilometre (62-mile) journey south to face Difaa el Jadidi.
Sixth-place Raja have played up to five matches less than some Botola Pro 1 rivals due to commitments in the CAF Champions League, where they have reached the semi-finals.
Arch rivals and defending champions Wydad Casablanca top the table with 36 points, one more than FUS Rabat and two above Mouloudia Oudja.
Reda Hajhouj from bottom-half Olympique Khouribga leads the Golden Boot race with 10 goals, one more than Ivorian Joseph Guede Gnadou from fifth-place AS FAR.
Leading club Zamalek have changed their minds after initially saying they would boycott the Egyptian Premier League when it restarted unless “a cure for the coronavirus is found”.
Hazem Emam, who shares the captaincy with Shikabala, went so far as to say he would raise the resumption issue with state president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
But a change of heart saw Zamalek return to training and thrash fellow Premier League outfit Smouha 5-1 in warm-up match.
Al Ahly are the runaway league leaders on 49 points halfway through the 34-match season, followed by Al Mokawloon (33 points), Pyramids FC (32) and Zamalek (28).
Tunisia is another country where the league leaders command a huge advantage with four-time African champions Esperance holding a 10-point lead with 10 rounds remaining.
The ‘Blood and Gold’ are chasing a fourth straight title and were outstanding before the lockdown, winning 14 matches and drawing the other two to amass 44 points.
Their wins included a 7-1 drubbing of JS Kairouan — the widest winning margin so far this season — and Anice Badri is a Golden Boot contender despite scoring only six goals.
CS Sfaxien lie second with 34 points, three more than US Monastir and seven ahead of former African champions Club Africain.
Club father figure Khulu Sibiya has pleaded with national association and Absa Premiership officials to bury their differences and resume the championship.
“Our (Premiership) relationship with the association is very fragile and the sooner it is resolved amicably the better,” said the chairman of top-flight club SuperSport United.
League bosses wanted to resume on July 18 in order to finish by August 31, but the national body said referees would be available only from August 1.
There is no love lost between the organisations with officials trading almost daily accusations in the media, and a restart date has yet to be confirmed.
Football officials say the situation is “difficult” with the Maghreb country among the hardest hit in Africa by the pandemic.
No date has been set for a resumption of the league, but there is hope that the Coupe d’Algerie can be completed.
The knockout competition would resume with the quarter-final second legs, with five top-flight and three second-tier clubs in contention.
Algiers-based CR Belouizdad top the Ligue Professionnelle 1 table with 40 points from 21 matches, three more than twice African champions Entente Setif, who have played a game more.