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North Africa’s dominance entering the CAF Champions League

North Africa's dominance

Photo by Stringer/picture alliance via Getty Images

North Africa’s dominance in the CAF Champions League is especially prominent over recent years. Egyptian side Al Ahly’s back-to-back titles is just the beginning.

From Cameroonian club dominance to Al Ahly’s impressive successes, the CAF Champions League produces remarkable moments. Africa’s premier club soccer tournament developed numerous soccer stars like Vincent Enyeama and Hossam Hassan. It gives clubs from all over Africa a chance to show their skills.

Yet, North African clubs own a monopoly over the CAF Champions League in recent years. Since 2016, elite North African clubs triumphed in the premier club tournament on the continent. This season, Al Ahly enters as the two-time holders of the competition.

The stranglehold by the region is not simply quality or commitment discrepancies. As seen, AFCON, as well as other club competitions, can produce underdogs that bring trophies home.

The differences lie elsewhere in regards to North Africa’s dominance in the CAF Champions League.

Explaining North Africa’s dominance in the competition

For reference, we designate Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco and Libya as North Africa. These are the nations that span the Mediterranean Sea and fall under the Union of North African Football, or UNAF.

North African club soccer certainly trumps other African clubs. In the competition’s near-60-year history, North African clubs won 33 titles, more than all other nation’s clubs combined. Trophies are one thing. The debate stems from how the North African sides dominate.

The simple answer would be to say skill or quality. Looking at the African Cup of Nations, UNAF nations do hold a lead in terms of number of champions. Egypt (7), Algeria (2), Morocco (1) and Tunisia (1) account for 11 titles. UNAF has more than any other region of Africa.

This is impressive, yes, but it is only a narrow lead over West Africa’s 10 titles and Central Africa’s eight. Meanwhile, the club scene runs through North Africa, and that much is undisputed.

North African clubs standing out

Journalist Maher Mezahi writes this dominance on the club scene exists because of the funding of North African sides.

“The simple truth is that many North African clubs possess sizeable budgets, allowing for the construction of infrastructure and better player acquisition,” he wrote in a 2019 article.

North Africa has more private investors investing in clubs so teams can spend more. Club infrastructure via training grounds and stadiums draws in players. Of course, these facilities are wildly expensive for the most lavish of options. Many African clubs do not have the funding to support something of this nature.

Former Mamelodi Sundowns manager Pitso Mosimane told KICKOFF his thoughts on North African clubs’ dominance.

“The big thing about North Africans is all about the intimidation. It is about how the officials handle the stress and the pressure,” Mosimane said.

Fan bases in North Africa are very energetic and sometimes hard to handle.

North Africa’s dominance comes from a mix of both money and intimidation. On one hand, money and marketing impact how rosters are made up. Therefore, better talent, players, coaches and facilities can be intimidating to those on the outside.

Yet there are countless other reasons too. They range from the popularity of soccer to the corruption that plagues football associations.

CAF Champions League trophy

Hope for the underdogs and outliers

There is hope for Africa’s sub-Saharan sides.

This era draws comparisons to when the Congo dominated in the 1960s and Cameroon’s success in the 1980s. The current period exemplifies North Africa’s dominance in the CAF Champions League.

Other clubs need to adapt now more than ever. Although North Africa’s dominance looks near insurmountable, there are examples of how to take down some of Africa’s mightiest fighters.

Breaking down the groups

Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of North African clubs. The CAF Champions League includes defending champions Al Ahly, famed club Raja Casablanca, and more. However, no one expected how dominant North Africa would be in qualifying. Half of the teams in the group stage, eight out of 16, are North African.

Clubs from North Africa do not just reign in quantity but also quality. North African teams form the top-five sides for seeding. Essentially, UNAF clubs held the highest places in CAF’s five-Year Ranking. The best four associations, according to the CAF five-year ranking, are from North Africa. This, yet again, reaffirms North Africa’s dominance.

North Africa’s power is unparalleled, but some teams could lift the trophy in this campaign.

Preview

Al Ahly is the favorite to take home the CAF Champions League trophy. Coming off two consecutive Champions League victories, Al Ahly is also a domestic powerhouse. Fellow Egyptian side Zamalek, Mamelodi Sundowns, and Tunisian titleholders Esperance Tunis could also take the title.

Yet numerous sleeper candidates pose problems to the perennial contenders. Sides like AmaZulu from South Africa or Tunisian side Etoile du Sahel will be problematic for the pre-established elite. Horoya AC will also cause trouble in a field full of fascinating sides.

On beIN Sports, many players will show their skills and attract the attention of clubs from other continents. Malian international Aliou Dieng will be among those players. Dieng, who earned 20 caps for his native Mali, is one of the continent’s best players at club and international level. The defensive midfielder is akin to a brick wall.

Another player to look out for is Namibia’s Peter Shalulile. Shalulile leads Mamelodi Sundowns’ front line in this CAF campaign. Shalulile terrorized the South African Premier League all season and will look to repeat his feats in this campaign.

Getting things started

beIN SPORTS holds the rights to broadcast the CAF Champions League in the United States. The tournament kicks off on Friday, Feb. 11, with games running into the weekend.

beIN SPORTS puts these games on its extra channels, such as beIN SPORTS Connect 2 or beIN SPORTS Connect 3. Therefore, beIN SPORTS Connect is a viable option to watch these games, as is something like fuboTV.

Here are some of the notable games in the first matchday to get North Africa’s dominance started in the 2022 edition of the CAF Champions League. All times are U.S. Eastern Time.

Friday, Feb. 11

10:50 a.m. — Etoile du Sahel (Tunisia) vs. CR Bélouizdad (Algeria) — beIN SPORTS Connect 4

1:50 a.m. — Wydad AC (Morocco) vs. GD Sagrada Esparanca (Angola) — beIN SPORTS Connect 5

Saturday, Feb. 12

7:50 a.m. — Esperance de Tunis (Tunisia) vs. Jwaneng Galaxy (Botswana) — beIN SPORTS Connect 3

10:50 a.m. — Horoya AC (Guinea) vs. ES Sétif (Algeria) — beIN SPORTS Connect 3

10:50 a.m. — Zamalek (Egypt) vs. Petro Atlético (Angola) — beIN SPORTS Connect 5

Sunday Feb. 13

7:50 a.m. — Coton Sport FC (Cameroon) vs. Al Masry (Egypt) — beIN SPORTS Connect 4

10:50 a.m. — Pyramids (Egypt) vs. Al Ahli Tripoli (Libya) — beIN SPORTS Connect 3

10:50 a.m. — Orlando Pirates (South Africa) vs. JS Saoura (Algeria) — beIN SPORTS Connect 4

1:50 p.m. — CS Sfaxien (Tunisia) vs. Zanaco (Zambia) — beIN SPORTS Connect 3

1:50 p.m. — RS Berkane (Morocco) vs. USGN (Niger) — beIN SPORTS Connect 4

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Mercator

    February 14, 2022 at 11:27 am

    Excellent article!

    I have a few good Moroccan friends who have taken me to a few Wydad games and the atmosphere is very intense – you don’t see many if any women or children and big games are close to a riot in and out of the stadium. These clubs are very well funded though. In Casablanca Raja is basically the King’s team and somewhat like Madrid there are always rumours/accusations that the King is funding or favouring the team (Wydad, their rival, is more anti-establishment but again there are accusations the government disfavours the club for political reasons). While most big Moroccan players play in Europe, a large number also play domestically and there is a strong incentive for countries like Morocco to try to keep decent players in the domestic league since its difficult to get European clubs to release players for things like AFCON. I think at the recent tournament they mostly went without the big European names, and still did quite well. It’s much closer to the European football culture than elsewhere in Africa.

    Compare this to domestic football in Nigeria, the largest African nation. Almost all of the semi decent teams are basically company teams or are run by local politicians (more like China). If the company gets disinterested or goes bust, or if the politician is thrown out of office, the club is gone. Corruption is also endemic. A couple of years ago I was looking at the Nigerian PL table and almost all the teams were level on points – they won all their home games and lost all their away games. The champion I think pulled out one draw and one win on the road and that was enough to put them on top. None of Nigeria’s national team players play domestically, for good reason.

    I’ve often wondered if it may make more sense to actually put North Africa in it’s own confederation with the Middle East, and leave sub-saharan africa in its own confederation. The cultural, language and even geographic links of North Africa are stronger with the Middle East than sub-saharan africa, and this would cut down on the size of AFC and CAF, which both are huge federations in terms of numbers and geography. I think it would also add a lot more parity to AFC, CAF and the new confederation.

    • Deolu Akingbade

      February 16, 2022 at 8:49 pm

      That’s not a bad idea, Mercator! We saw glimmers of that in the Arab Cup, and I think it was very enjoyable. It also would not be as much of a headache, traveling across the continent for a CAF Confederations Cup match(see: Orlando Pirates-JS Saoura).

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