Esperance of Tunis went into the return leg final of the 2019 CAF Champions League as favorites against Wydad of Casablanca.
In a full capacity Stade Olympique de Rades, the defending champions who earned a precious 1–1 away draw in the first leg were crowned champions in a return leg game that lasted only for 58 minutes.
Play was suspended for over an hour before Gambian referee Bakary Gassama sounded the final whistle with Esperance declared as winners.
Esperance were leading 1-0 in the first half after Youcef Belaili put them ahead at the 41st minute of the game.
Wydad came back and looked a better team in the second half and thought they had secured an equalizer when midfielder Walid El Karti headed in only for his effort to be ruled out for offside at the 58th minute.
The Gambian referee decided not to use the VAR for a recheck and that’s where all the controversy started.
It should be noted that Esperance had protested the choice of Mr Gassama as the referee of the game an sent an official letter to CAF about it. Meanwhile the Egyptian referee Gehad Geresha who took charge of the first leg game had been handed a six months suspension from CAF for his poor handling of the game.
Wydad decided not to continue the game after Mr Gassama refused to use the VAR which was the main reason behind their 1-1 draw in the first leg.
After the game was halted for more than an hour, the referee sounded the final whistle and the defending champions Esperance were declared winners due to Wydad’s refusal to re-enter the pitch and claimed a fourth title in the competition.
In a very disgraceful atmosphere for African football as a whole, the tournament’s organizers report have suggested that Mr Gassama did not chose not to use the VAR but rather the system had technical issues.
Even an attempt by CAF’s President Ahmad Ahmad to convince the disgruntled Wydad team to carry on with the game did not yield any results.
Esperance won the tie on a 2-1 aggregate score but this year’s final will be remembered more for the controversial refereeing decisions as a result of the VAR and might even bring back strong arguments against its universal acceptance in football.