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CAF Champions League

VAR horror gives Al-Ahly the edge in Caf Champions League final

21:38 SAST 2018/11/03
Esperance v Al-Ahly
Controversial calls and the use of the video assistant technology made headlines in what was an evenly-contested game in Alexandria

COMMENT    By Kunle Fayiga     Follow on Twitter

Al-Ahly and Esperance renewed their rivalry in the first leg of the Caf Champions League final, having previously met in group phase of this year’s competition.

While the Red Devils came out on top 1-0 on aggregate in the double-header earlier in the competition, this final was always going to be a different story. 

That proved to be case as Patrice Carteron’s men were made to work extra hard in the first leg in Alexandria.

However, the match was overshadowed by controversial refereeing calls; there were three penalties on the night, including two controversial ones which went to the Egyptians, as Ahly sealed a 3-1 win that certainly didn’t go down well with the travelling contingent.

We can forget that Amr Elsolia finished off a neat strike as the only goal from open play in the match, but Algerian referee Mehdi Abid Charef has to be put into question after his performance even after consulting with VAR over the two penalties which were converted by Walid Soliman.

In the first incident, Esperance goalie Moez Ben Cherifa made contact with Al-Ahly striker Walid Azaro and replays clearly showed that the latter dived, as contact with Ben Cherifa was minimal. In the second incident, Azaro fell under the challenge of an Esperance defender, with TV replays once again showing that there was very minimal contact.

It is understandable that the referee might not have had a good view of the incident hence went to see the replays himself. It would have been expected that he would rule no penalty after seeing the evidence, but to have done the exact opposite on both occasions was shocking.

Esperance were really in the game and had moments of their own such, as when Ghailene Chaalali’s thunderous shot hit the woodwork just before the half-time whistle. They would have had a second goal in the dying minutes of the game were it not for a smart save from Mohamed El-Shenawy.  The Mkachkha also had seven shots on target, just one less than Al-Ahly, which demonstrates how close the contest truly was.

VAR was introduced to aid referees, and with what was seen from Abid Charef in Alexandria on Friday night, suspicions and conspiracies theories will follow suit. How can this kind of mismanagement of a game exist with the technology in place?

Was this a ploy by Al-Ahly to desperately get their hands on Africa’s biggest club title, the crown they haven’t won since 2013?

Bad refereeing is seen as one of the biggest ills in African football, and while the move by Caf to introduce VAR in the continental competitions is a welcome development, scenes like those which occurred at the Borg el Arab Stadium seriously raise doubt as to whether it solves or worsens the existing problem.