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Sports Features of Friday, 8 September 2006

Source: Amo-Mensah, Kwasi

Africa Clubs Championship Cup/Champions League In Picture

Football in Africa is warming up to the many belated stimuli and from all indications entering a new phase of development. African Clubs Championship cup/ CAF Champions League is 42 this year, yet very little can be said about the continent with regard to the FIFA World Club Championship.

No other game highlights disparity in wealth than football. With Africa football deeply in poverty, one would not find it too difficult to understand why soccer on the continent still languishes behind the rest of the world. In 2004, clubs from the Central African Republic withdrew from the competition due to lack of funds. Tempest Mocaf also withdrew citing similar reason. Their decision therefore allowed Ghana?s Asante Kotoko a bye into the first round of the competition. In spite of this problem of lack of financial support, no one can deny the abundance of talents in Africa. It is in recognition of this that efforts are being made by CAF to enhance soccer growth in Africa.

The maiden edition of the competition was held in January 1965 which Oryx Ballios beat Stade Malian 2-1 in the final, played in Accra to become the first African Champions. The more professional north African sides have been more successful in this competition, with over half of the last 41 titles going to clubs from Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Egypt has ten wins while Cameroon and Morocco have five each. In all, twelve countries have provided Africa champions, the latest being Nigeria with the recent successes of Enyimba of Aba. The most successful club in the history of the championship has been Zamalek of Egypt, with a total of five titles, slightly ahead of holders, Ahly.

The first trophy for the competition bore the name of Dr Kwame Nkrumah which was eventually kept by Hafia club of Guinea in 1977. This was replaced by one donated by President Sekou Toure of Guinea, which was claimed by Zamalek in 1993. Since 1994, a trophy donated by CAF which is a silver ball on a base of metal rings and wooden stand has been contested.

The competition has undergone series of transformation over the years. At first, re-play and toss of the coin were used to decide tied matches. Penalty shoot-out was then introduced in 1971 before the away goal rule came in 1975. CAF introduced a limit of 30 players per club per year, with 25 registered at the start of the competition and five more allowed to be added from the last eight onwards. Champions League was introduced in 1997, bringing in a league format for the last eight. Winners from two groups of four then met in the final. Semi-final round was introduced five years later. The 2005 final was played in November instead of the regular December schedule.

Who win this year? Too late for Hearts of Oak and Asante Kotoko? Well, we are yet to see.

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