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Esperance declared African club champion after VAR farce

August 7, 2019

Esperance of Tunisia was declared Africa’s club champion on Wednesday, more than two months after the final was abandoned under farcical circumstances when players from opponent Wydad Casablanca walked off because the video assistant referee system wasn’t working.

Esperance was initially awarded the trophy before the Confederation of African Football’s executive committee ordered the game, the second leg of the African Champions League final, to be replayed. The committee ordered Esperance to hand back the cup and winner’s medals.

Last week, the Court of Arbitration for Sport annulled that decision after appeals by both teams because the CAF executive committee didn’t have the authority to rule on the game.

The case was sent to CAF’s disciplinary board and it decided that Esperance, which was leading 2-1 on aggregate when the game was abandoned in the second half, should be reinstated as the winner. Esperance retained the title it won last season. It’s the Tunisian club’s fourth African club triumph.

Wydad players were furious after they had an equalizing goal in the 59th minute incorrectly ruled out for offside and were told the VAR system was unavailable because of technical issues. Neither team had been told VAR wasn’t working.

Wydad players and officials argued with match officials and the game was stopped for more than an hour. CAF president Ahmad Ahmad even appeared on the field in an attempt to resolve the issue. Realizing they were not going to be awarded the goal, Wydad players eventually stormed off.

CAF didn’t immediately offer any congratulations to Esperance after its disciplinary committee embarrassingly overruled a decision by its top executive committee.

Instead, CAF also announced fines totaling $135,000 for both teams for various offenses during the shambolic game in Rades, Tunisia, on May 31.

Wydad was fined $50,000 for walking off the field and $15,000 for its supporters lighting flares in the stands. Esperance president Mohamed Meddeb was fined $20,000 and reprimanded for “unsporting behavior” toward CAF president Ahmad, and Esperance was fined $50,000 for supporters throwing objects onto the field.

The saga and its mishandling by CAF has been another major blow to the credibility of the African soccer confederation, which is in disarray under Ahmad’s leadership. Ahmad, a FIFA vice president, is under investigation for corruption by French authorities and FIFA’s ethics committee, and the world body has sent its secretary general, Fatma Samoura, to oversee a forensic audit of CAF.

Samoura will work at CAF headquarters in Cairo for six months from Aug. 1 in an unprecedented move by FIFA.

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