Esperance, Wydad included in CAF Champions League draw

Esperance Tunis and Wydad Casablanca, who are locked in a legal battle over which won the last CAF Champions League, will have first-round byes when the next edition kicks off.

Both the Tunisian and the Moroccan clubs will advance directly to the last-32 of the premier Confederation of African Football (CAF) competition.

Esperance will play Cercle Mberi Sportif of Gabon or Elect-Sport of Chad while Wydad have been drawn against the winner of SO Armee of the Ivory Coast and Nouadhibou of Mauritania during September.

Two months ago, Esperance were leading Wydad 2-1 on aggregate with 30 minutes remaining of the second leg in Tunis when Wydad had an equaliser disallowed.

Wydad wanted the decision referred to VAR (video assistant referee), but the system was not working and the team stormed off in protest.

After a 90-minute delay, Esperance were awarded the match and the team received medals and the trophy, but not the $2.5 million (2.24 mn euros) prize.

When CAF officials later ordered the second leg to be replayed at a neutral venue, both clubs lodged appeals with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

CAF accepted this course of action and the Switzerland-based CAS has promised to reach a decision by July 31.

- Historic -

The next Champions League will be historic as an August-to-May season is introduced and the final is reduced from two legs to one match at a neutral venue.

There will also be a record 14 previous winners involved, including eight-time trophy-holders Al Ahly of Egypt.

While the new timetable has been welcomed as it matches most African domestic seasons, there is concern that finals could be watched by tiny crowds.

The Cup of Nations, which finished in Egypt on July 19, confirmed that African football fans show little interest in matches not involving their own clubs or national teams.

A 9,000 crowd watched Senegal beat Tunisia in a semi-final that would have filled a 60,000-capacity stadium in Dakar or Tunis.

The latest Champions League begins in August with 29 preliminary round ties while Esperance, Wydad and TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo have byes.

Guinean club Hafia, who were African champions three times between 1972 and 1977, return after a 36-year absence and face Etoile Sahel of Tunisia.

Dekedaha are the first entrants since 1990 from violence-ravaged Somalia and they meet five-time champions Zamalek of Egypt.

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