‘Huge’ African Champions League win ‘one of the best things ever’

Al Ahly has won the last two African Champions League titles, in another era of North African dominance
Date: Monday May 30 Location: Stade Mohammed V kick off: 19:00 GMT

According to former winners Junior Ajayi and Mbwana Samatta, winning the African Champions League remains the pinnacle of the game for players on the continent.

Record 10-time winner Al Ahly will take on Wydad Casablanca in this season’s final on Monday, a one-off match that will be controversially held in Morocco at Wydad’s home ground.

Egyptian giants Ahly are aiming for an unprecedented third title in a row, while Wydad is aiming for their third crown and a first since 2017.

“Winning twice in a row was one of the best things that ever happened to me in football,” said Ajayi, 26, told BBC Sport Africa.

The Nigerian was part of the Al Ahly side that defeated fierce Cairo rivals Zamalek in the final of 2020 for keep the trophy last July.

He has fond memories of the celebrations, despite both wins coming behind closed doors due to the coronavirus restrictions.

“The final against Zamalek was a really big one, it was the final of the century,” the attacker recalled. “When the final whistle was blown, there were tears of joy.

†[The journey] from the Cairo Stadium to my house was supposed to take a minute, but I had to spend almost five hours before I could enter my house because the whole street was so packed with fans cheering, cheering and singing.

“The memories will stay with me forever. I can’t deny that it is one of the most beautiful moments of my life.”

Meanwhile, Tanzanian international Samatta was top scorer with TP Mazembe back then the DR Congo club triumphed in 2015.

“I didn’t realize how big the size was until I reached the final and won the competition,” the 29-year-old, who now plays in Europe, told BBC Sport Africa.

“It’s huge. There are so many people watching, so many people following you after you win the match.

“It’s natural for someone to be very proud when they win a championship and winning the African Champions League is a great achievement for African players.”

Fans and geography help North Africans

Wydad Casablanca fans during a quarter-final of the African Champions League
Wydad Casablanca fans help make the Stade Mohammed V an intimidating venue for visiting parties

North African clubs have dominated the competition in recent years – winning nine of the last 11 titles – and this year’s final is the fifth all-North African affair in the past six seasons.

Ajayi thinks passionate support has had a big impact on seeing clubs from Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia dominate the continent.

“The fans are one of the reasons why they are always at the top of the league,” he said.

Al Ahly – who met Wydad at their home stadium on Monday, May 30 – have complained about their unfair advantage at their home stadium, which had been designated to host the final just three weeks ago.

The Egyptians believe that the partisan crowd can greatly influence the outcome of the final.

“I think back to my own experience because the fans are so demanding. The pressure is on the players because you have to win every game in the league to get to the final.”

“They don’t settle for draws – even if they win, they have to win convincingly.”

Samatta believes that the geographical proximity of the North Africans to Europe has also been key to a success that is also based on greater wealth than many clubs on the continent.

“I think it’s the way they oversee football,” said Samatta, who was on loan at Antwerp from Fenerbahce this season.

“This could be a huge factor because they are close to Europe and this could be a way of making them similar in some ways in the way they manage their clubs.

“We know that European countries are successful. I believe their proximity to European countries has helped them.”

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