Esperance declared African Champions League winners

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CAIRO (Reuters) – Tunisian club Esperance have been declared African Champions League winners after the Confederation of African Football’s disciplinary committee on Wednesday found opponents Wydad Casablanca guilty of abandoning the second leg of the final in May.

This reverses an earlier decision by the CAF executive committee to order a replay of the second leg, in which the Moroccan side refused to play on after a VAR controversy.

Both clubs had appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which last week found that the CAF executive committee’s decision was wrong and ordered the case to be heard by CAF’s disciplinary committee.

Both clubs were also fined after a hearing in Cairo on Wednesday.

Wydad received a $20,000 fine for abandoning the match and a further $15,000 (12,346.7 pounds)for the use of flares by supporters. Esperance were handed a $50,000 fine for use of flares and the throwing of projectiles by their supporters during the game in Tunis on May 31.

The teams had drawn 1-1 in the first leg of the final in Casablanca and Esperance were 1-0 up in the return match when Wydad netted what they thought was a 59th-minute equaliser.

The referee ruled it out for offside, however, and turned down animated appeals from the Wydad players to consult the VAR because the system was not working.

Wydad refused to play on and the argument continued on the pitch between the teams and officials for some two hours before the game was called off and Esperance were awarded the trophy.

Five days later, CAF’s executive committee said the second leg must be replayed on neutral territory.

Esperance appealed to CAS to be reinstated as champions after Wydad’s walk-off, while the Moroccans argued they should be declared winners or that both legs of the final be annulled and a single replay ordered.

CAS rejected Wydad’s argument, but said the question of whether the match would be replayed would need to be considered by the appropriate CAF body — the disciplinary committee.

Wednesday’s decision is an embarrassing outcome for the beleaguered CAF executive committee, which was unanimous in ordering a replay in what critics said was pandering to the strong Moroccan influence on the organisation.

The running of CAF was taken over last week by FIFA general secretary Fatma Samoura amid allegations of corruption.

Esperance will now play in the Club World Cup in Qatar at the end of the year.

They are also only the third club to retain the continent’s top club prize, having won it in 2018.