African Football – Year in Review

African Football – Year in Review

The past 12 months have been a tumultuous time in African football both on and off the pitch but as we head into 2022 there is new hope with the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon just around the corner.

That competition was scheduled to be played in 2021 but postponed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which also allowed local organizers more time to prepare for the 24-team showpiece event.

AFRICA CUP OF NATIONS QUALIFIERS

In fact, the qualifiers for the competition were only completed in March after a series of delays due to the pandemic, and there were some big names who missed out, not least South Africa, who needed a draw in Sudan in their final match but ended up losing 2-0.

DR Congo, Uganda, Togo, and Zambia were among the others left disappointed by their failure to reach the finals.

But where there is despair for some, there is a joy for others and the Gambia was left to celebrate a maiden qualification along with Comoros Islands.

Mauritania reached their second successive finals, and Malawi their first since 2010. For Sierra Leone, it has been an even longer wait after they last appeared in South Africa in 1996.

Fifa WORLD CUP QUALIFIERS

The resumption of the Fifa World Cup qualifiers was also delayed by the pandemic, with the group stage to be completed in a space of three months between September and November.

It was a helter-skelter period for the countries involved, not least as the Confederation of African Football applied new strict regulations on minimum standards for home stadia.

It meant several teams had to play qualifiers in neutral countries and left others scrambling to get their facilities up to scratch.

Only the top team in each of the 10 pools advanced to the third round of the qualifiers that will be staged in March, where they will be paired in home and away clashes with the five victors taking their place at Qatar 2022.

There were few surprises in the teams that advanced – a youthful South Africa with Belgian coach Hugo Broos ran Ghana close and in the end missed out after a 1-0 loss in Cape Coast following a disputed penalty that led to a protest from the South African Football Association, which was rejected by Fifa.

The Ivory Coast missed out in a tough pool that also included the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon, but the rest it largely went to form.

The other eight sides who qualified for the third stage are Algeria, Tunisia, Nigeria, Mali, Egypt, Senegal, DR Congo and Morocco.

CAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE

South African coach Pitso Mosimane claimed a third CAF Champions League title in 2020/21 to confirm his credentials as one of Africa’s premier tacticians.

It was his second title in a row with Egyptian giants Al Ahly, having also lifted the trophy with Mamelodi Sundowns in 2016.

But the surprising thing was their final opponents as South African side Kaizer Chiefs belied a poor domestic campaign to reach the continental decider, with their standout result a 1-0 aggregate win over Wydad Casablanca in the semifinals.

That set up a final meeting in, ironically, Casablanca which in the end was won comfortably by Al Ahly via a 3-0 scoreline.

Chiefs were holding their opponents until a red card late in the first half for Happy Mashiane left them a man short and the Egyptians expertly picked them apart in the second period.

The victory extended Al Ahly’s record number of Champions League wins to 10 and also cemented their status as the continent’s greatest club.

Mosimane had a meeting with former side Sundowns in the quarterfinals, where his team won 2-0 in Cairo before claiming a 1-1 draw in South Africa.

The 2021/22 Champions League competition has reached the group stages, where Mosimane will be pitted against Sundowns again, the third year in a row that the two teams clash.

DStv Premiership side AmaZulu stunned DR Congo giants TP Mazembe to reach the pool stages as well. It is Usuthu’s maiden season in an African club competition.

The group stages will start in February 2022 and run to early April.

CAF CONFEDERATION CUP

Moroccan side Raja Casablanca were 2020/21 CAF Confederation Cup winners after they defeated Algerian outfit JS Kabylie in the decider.

Raja claimed a 2-1 win in neutral Cotonou, Benin, a game that was officiated by South African referee Victor Gomes.

Raja had edged past Egyptian side Pyramids FC in the semifinals, but thumped South Africans Orlando Pirates 5-1 in the round before, which included a 4-0 home win.

Pirates had finished second in their pool on away goals in their head-to-head record with Nigerian side Enyimba and have reached the pool stage again in 2021/22.

One of their potential opponents is last year’s runners-up Kabylie, who are trailing 1-0 from the first leg of their play-off tie with Royal Leopards of Eswatini which must still be completed in January.

CAF SUPER CUP

Delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic meant that both the 2020 and 2021 CAF Super Cup were played this year, the first in May and the second in December.

Both were won by Al Ahly, who defeated Moroccan opposition on each occasion.

They claimed a 2-0 win over RS Berkane in the May fixture that was played in Doha but found it a lot tougher in the second game that was also played in Qatar.

Raja Casablanca led that fixture until the last minute of the game when Bafana Bafana star Percy Tau laid on an equalizer for Ahly’s Taher Mohamed.

That sent the game to penalties and it was Ahly who held their nerve to win 6-5, extending their record number of wins in the CAF Super Cup to eight.

DOMESTIC LEAGUES

Many domestic leagues around the continent got back on track in the 2020/21 season, allowing for new champions to be crowned.

Zamalek took top honors in Egypt in a surprise result that saw Al Ahoy finish second, while Wydad Casablanca were champions of Morocco and Espérance claimed the title in Tunisia.

CR Belouizdad was named champions of Algeria when the league was stopped after 35 rounds, while TP Mazembe were winners again in DR Congo and Horoya took the top spot in Guinea.

Zesco United took the title in Zambia, while Akwa United claimed a maiden championship in Nigeria.

Sagrada Esperança won their first Girabola in Angola in 2005, while Al Hilal took the league in Sudan and Simba claimed the honors in Tanzania.