Covid-19 could force Africa to rethink club competition formats

AFP , Sunday 12 Jul 2020

The CAF Champions League traditionally takes 15 weekends from start to finish and the second-tier CAF Confederation Cup 17 weekends

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Reduced matchdays due to the coronavirus pandemic may force the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to rethink the format of its club competitions for the 2020/2021 season.

"Dropping the group stages and, in the Confederation Cup, the play-offs are possibilities," a senior CAF official, who requested anonymity as he is not an official spokesman, told AFP.

The CAF Champions League traditionally takes 15 weekends from start to finish and the second-tier CAF Confederation Cup 17 weekends.

There are two, two-leg qualifying rounds in both competitions, followed by play-offs between Confederation Cup last-32 winners and Champions League last-32 losers in the secondary event.

A six-round group phase comes next, then two-leg quarter-finals and semi-finals and a single-match final.

"The 15 weekends currently needed for the Champions League could be cut in half to seven and a half," said the official.

"Play three (two-leg) qualifying rounds and you are left with eight clubs. Then, take a leaf out of the European book and stage a mini-tournament over eight days to produce champions.

"Using one venue, reduce the quarter-finals and semi-finals to single matches followed by the final. All seven matches can be staged within eight or nine days."

"By scrapping the play-offs in the Confederation Cup, you can apply the same system to that competition, reducing 17 weekends to just seven and a half.

"A benefit of using one venue for the final stages would be that VAR (video assistant referee) could be used from the quarter-finals on.

"Anything that reduces the many controversies surrounding CAF club matches will surely be welcomed."

- Limited travel options -

Numerous clubs complain about the amount of time consumed by involvement in CAF competitions with an away match often taking up seven or even more days due to limited travel options.

When South African clubs go to the north of the continent, they often have to fly via the United Arab Emirates or Qatar or even Europe.

"A big drawback when competing in Africa is the amount of time spent travelling," admitted highly successful Mamelodi Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane.

"Sometimes there are long stopovers, and then there are internal journeys on poor quality roads. You need to be mentally strong when playing in CAF competitions."

Gavin Hunt of Bidvest Wits is another South African coach familiar with the challenges of competing in the Champions League and Confederation Cup.

"I envy European clubs who can travel to and from a country the same day. We sometimes leave South Africa on a Monday to play a match six days later.

"It can take a further few days to get home by which time you have fallen two of three fixtures behind your rivals in the domestic league."

While CAF ponder how to organise the 2020/2021 club competitions, the 2019/2020 editions have yet to be completed due to the pandemic.

Cameroonian port city Douala has been chosen to stage the single-match semi-finals and final of the Champions League.

Casablanca clubs Raja and Wydad and Cairo outfits Al Ahly and Zamalek are the contenders for the $2.5 million (2.2 mn euro) first prize.

Rabat will stage the semi-finals and final of the Confederation Cup with Renaissance Berkane and Hassania Agadir of Morocco, Horoya of Guinea and Pyramids of Egypt the final four clubs.

CAF hope both competitions can be completed during September.

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