Al Ahly CAF Champions League triumph validates authenticity of two-legged final

Al Ahly CAF Champions League triumph validates authenticity of two-legged final

All eyes were on the Stade Mohamed V when Wydad Casablanca faced Al Ahly in the second leg of the CAF Champions League on Sunday.

The Red Devils had taken a 2-1 lead from the second leg, meaning all was to play for as the Red Castle had the away goal advantage.

It looked like Wydad were going to win back-to-back Champions League titles, matching the feat achieved by Enyimba, Al Ahly, TP Mazembe and Esperance when Yahia Attiyat Allah gave the Moroccan outfit the lead in the 27th minute, sending the Casablanca home support into a frenzy. It was however not be as Ahly equalised courtesy of Mohamed Abdelmonem 11 minutes from time, ultimately seeing out the game 1-1 and 3-2 on aggregate to give the Egyptians their record-extending 11th Champions League crown.

The 2022-23 season marked the first time the CAF Champions League reverted to a two-leg final as the last three editions were single leg affairs largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting the football calendar globally.

There have been clamouring from some quarters for the CAF Champions League to be a single leg format just like it is in the UEFA Champions League but the previous single leg editions in Cairo and Casablanca did not thrill as much.

The thrill and excitement was felt once again in this electric tie between Al Ahly and Wydad. The atmosphere was tension-soaked with fans of both clubs displaying passion and dedication and having it on back-to-back weekends could not have been any sweeter.

A two-legged final gives each finalist and opportunity to go toe to toe, keeping fans and viewers across the continent glued to the edge of their seats. The Champions League final is filled with memorable two-leg encounters such as the 2004 final between Enyimba of Nigeria and Etoile du Sahel of Tunisia, the 2009 final between Heartland and TP Mazembe, the 2014 final between AS Vita and ES Setif and also the 2017 and 2018 final between Al Ahly and Wydad and Al Ahly against Esperance among many other close encounters.

While the UEFA Champions League has its own thrill over one leg in a neutral ground as witnessed on Saturday between Manchester City and Inter Milan in Istanbul or the epic comeback 3-3 draw between Liverpool and AC Milan in 2005, the CAF Champions League two-legged final is unique on its own and deserves to have its place unchanged.

There is no need for the Confederation of African football (CAF) to bow to the pressures and demand of trying to adjust or align with Europe. The Copa Libertadores (South American version of the Champions League) is a two-legged affair and has produced epic results. The same applies to the AFC Champions League in Asia that is also played over two-legs.

Europe will always be the dominant force in football and what goes on there has a way of shaping the minds of fans, players and other football personnel across the globe. That might be good in a lot of ways considering the wide gap that exists between European and African football and the need for African football to evolve greatly but it does not stop Africa from having something that makes it different and at the same time exciting.

The CAF Champions League format is just one of such and it should remain that way beyond the foreseeable future.

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