By Piers Edwards BBC Sport Africa
After a backlash following its decision to stage the final of the African Champions League in Morocco, the Confederation of African Football (Caf) says it had no other candidates to host the game.
The announcement the match will be held in Casablanca, when one of the city’s teams – Wydad – look set to reach the 30 May event, has caused fury online.
Nowhere is this stronger than in Egypt, where Cairo’s Al Ahly – the record 10-time African club champions – appear poised to meet Wydad in the final after both sides recorded comfortable wins in the opening legs of their respective semi-finals this weekend.
Confirmation that Morocco would host the one-off encounter for the second year running came on Monday after Senegal pulled out last week.
“A few months ago, four to five countries expressed interest in hosting the final but only two candidates properly came through,” a Caf source told BBC Sport Africa.
“We wanted more countries to bid, because the final is often between those from Morocco and Egypt. So it was fantastic to receive the Senegal bid, but they withdrew.”
Reaction to the decision has seen the hashtag #stopcafcorruption trend online, with insinuations that African football’s ruling body had purposely selected Morocco to boost Wydad’s chances should they reach the final – which Caf has rejected.
Al Ahly coach Pitso Mosimane even asked ‘What is this all about?’ above a graphic showing the hashtag trending globally on Twitter.
Before the announcement on Monday, Al Ahly had asked Caf to stage the match in a neutral venue given the possibility that Wydad will be there.
Like their coach, many Ahly fans reacted with incredulity at the decision, which came three weeks before the final and just days after Wydad took a 3-1 first-leg lead against Angola’s Petro Atletico.
Even one-time Fifa presidential hopeful Ramon Vega raised objections online.
“How does Caf play two successive Champions League finals in Morocco? No other country in Africa can stage the final? #StopCafCorruption disgrace,” the former Switzerland defender tweeted.
“It does not make any sense,” the Caf official said.
“The fans should ask themselves: ‘how many countries are willing to host the final?’ It costs a significant amount to do so. If it was easy, we’d be discussing candidacies from 10 countries or so.”
BBC Sport Africa understands that when the original deadline for bid submissions passed in February, only Morocco had come forward to bid.
With the North African nation having hosted the final last year, Caf encouraged other countries to stage the match but, despite expressions of interest from Nigeria, Senegal and South Africa, only Morocco remained when it came to decision time.
With its brand new 50,000-capacity stadium in Diamniadio, Senegal had been considered a serious candidate to win the bid but withdrew last week, possibly over doubts about their chances.
Why the late decision?
African football’s ruling body leaves the decision late in a bid to ensure the final takes place in a region that could attract a decent crowd for the continent’s showpiece club event.
“It is our intention in taking time to announce the final venue to give more opportunity to countries who reach the latter stages of the competition to bid – we need a final in the right region to get people to attend it,” the Caf source explained.
“People in Europe have money to travel to a final and pay the match ticket, but in Africa it is not the same.”
Until 2020, the African Champions League final had always been a two-legged affair, with matches played in both finalists’ home nation.
When announcing the decision on Monday night, Caf stated that talks are “underway within Caf to revert to the old two-legged home and away final to determine the winner of the Champions League, rather than the one-leg final.”
Al Ahly, who recorded a 4-0 win over Algeria’s Entente Setif in the first leg of their last four tie, are chasing an unprecedented third successive African Champions League title.
Wydad have won the tournament twice, while Petro are looking to overturn a 3-1 deficit to reach the final for the first time.