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Sports News | Mar 20, 2004

African Club Championship/Champions In Picture

Kwasi Amo-Mensah

Africa football is entering another level of development.This year, Africa Champions cup competition now Afican Champions League has seen years and now the continent is awaiting its representation in the Fifa World Club championship.

The preliminary round games of the newly expanded championship set off days ago with the participating sides fully aware that victory at the end of this year`s competition will assure the winning team international opportunity after Fifa announcement to that effect.The prize for winning this year`s chamionship is $1 million.

No other game or industry more acutely highlight the disparity in wealth better than football. With African football deeply in poverty, it should not be too difficult to understand why soccer on the continent still languishes behind. Days ago, clubs from Central African Republic Republic withdrew from the competition due to lack of funds. Even Kenya`s representatives in the chaampionship, Ulinzi Stars are struggling to raise money to pay for basic facilities like hotel and custumes and there is a fear that the money may not be in place before their match against the equally cash strapped side AS Vita of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Earlier, Tempeste Mocaf has declared it is withdrewing from the tournament citing the same reason of lack of money. The team`s decision allows Ghanaian champions Asante Kotoko of a bye into the next stage of the competition

Yet no one can deny the abundance of talents on the continent. It is in obvious recognition of this that efforts are being made to increasingly aid soccer growth in Africa.

This year, the competition is involving two teams from Federations of 12 countries which include Ghana,Egypt, Morocco, Ivory Coast and Cameroon. Reigning champions Enyimba of Aba, the only Nigerian club to win the chapionship earns a bye to the next round.

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Four teams were involved in the initial competition in January 1965 with final match played in Accra though without any club from Ghana in the final.That was the only time the title was decided on neutral grounds.

The North African sides have been more successful in the cahmpionship with over half of the last 39 titles won by clubs from Egypt, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Egypt has the most wins, 9 while Cameroon and and Morocco have 5 each. Twelve countries have so far provided African champions with the latest being Nigeria with the success of Enyimba of Aba last year. The most successful club is Zamalek of Egypt, with a total of five titles.

The first trophy in the history of the competition bore the name of President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, which was eventually kept by Hafia Club of Guinea in 1977, the first club to win it 3 times. It was replaced by one donated by President Sekou Toure, which was claimed by Zamalek in 1993, wining on penalties against Asante Kotoko who as well had the chance of winning it for keeps. Since 1994, a trophy donated by CAF which is a silver ball on a base of metal rings and a wooden stand has been contested.

The format of the competition has undergone changes over the yeas. At first, replays were used to decide tied matches which denied Asante Kotoko a cup after their inability to feature in one in the 1970s.The penalty shootout was introduced in 1971 before the away goal rule effected in1975. In the same year, CAF introduced a limit of 30 payers per club per year, with 25 players registered at the start of the competition and five more allowed to be added to the roster from the last 8 onwards. The toss of coins had at one time been the decider in final mathes. Kalala`s TP Englebert now TP Mazembe won by that against Asante Kotoko in 1969.

The Champions League was introduced in 1997, bringing in a league format for the last 8. It was two groups of four and the winners from each met in the final. The first winners were Raja Cassablanca of Morocco beating Ghana`s Obuasi Goldfields on penalties in the finals. Two years ago, a semi-final round was as well introduced.

The competition has seen a lot of development over the years. We are waiting to see who wins this year`s edition. I wish all the participating clubs all the best.

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