CAF Confederation Cup final set for Morocco amid drama

CAF Confederation Cup final set for Morocco amid drama
The Moroccan club Renaissance Berkane are due to host Egyptian outfit Zamalek on Sunday amid a dispute over Western Sahara shirts that led to cancellations.
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Renaissance Berkane are due to host Egyptian outfit Zamalek on Sunday in the CAF Confederation Cup final [GETTY]

Moroccan club Renaissance Berkane is due to host Egyptian outfit Zamalek on Sunday in the first leg of the CAF Confederation Cup final, which will be played against a background of off-field drama.

Algerian side USMA, who forfeited both legs of a semi-final in a storm over Moroccan maps on the Berkane shirts, have asked the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to reverse those decisions.

They also want the first leg of the title decider, scheduled for the 10,000-capacity Stade Municipal in northeastern Morocco, to be postponed.

Separately, Zamalek has requested the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to change the Tunisian VAR officials chosen to handle the first encounter to those from another country.

The shirt drama began two days before the first leg, set to be played on 21 April, when Algerian customs officials seized the kit because the map included the Western Sahara.

Morocco has controlled most of that sparsely populated territory, which has phosphate reserves and rich fishing grounds, since 1975.

Algeria, however, opposes Moroccan rule and backs the Polisario Front, which seeks independence for Western Sahara.

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The dispute was partly responsible for Algeria cutting diplomatic ties with Morocco in 2021 over what it called "hostile acts". Morocco branded the move "completely unjustified".

CAF ordered the Algerian authorities to return the confiscated kit, and when they did not, Berkane refused to play and was awarded a 3-0 walkover by the African body.

Algeria argued that the shirts contained a political message that conflicted with the laws of the game and CAF and FIFA regulations.

Morocco countered that shirts, including the map, had been worn in Nigeria, Mali, South Africa, Congo Brazzaville and Libya en route to the semi-finals, and there had been no objections.

USMA travelled to Morocco for the return match on 28 April but refused to play, reportedly because their opponents' shirts included the map.


This led to another 3-0 walkover for Berkane over USMA, who won the Confederation Cup, the African equivalent of the UEFA Europa League, for the first time last season.

USMA president Kamal Hassina told the AfricaFootUnited website that his club and the Algerian Football Federation (FAF) had appealed with the Switzerland-based CAS.

"USM was ready to play the first match in Algeria by making all the arrangements. We asked the CAS not to play this final or to postpone it," said Hassina.

Meanwhile, Zamalek is unhappy with the choice of VAR officials for the first leg because the Berkane coach, Mouin Chaabani, is Tunisian.

The Cairo club says Tunisian officials' choice is against the CAF principles of equality and impartiality.

Berkane has lifted the Confederation Cup twice after losing the 2019 final to Zamalek on penalties after both clubs won 1-0 at home.

The sole survivor from that Berkane team is captain and centre-back Issoufou Dayo, a Burkina Faso international.

He played a key role in the knockout stage this season, scoring the decisive quarter-final goal 15 minutes into added time against Libyan opponents Abu Salim.

Berkane boasts an outstanding home record in the competition, winning 34 matches and drawing six, scoring 88 goals and conceding 17.

Zamalek suffered a blow when injured captain Mahmoud 'Shikabala' Abdelrazek was ruled out of the match in Berkane and the return encounter in Cairo on 19 May.

The White Knights have a good Confederation Cup record in Morocco, losing only once in four visits, and impressed in Ghana last month when hammering Dreams 3-0 in a semi-final second leg.