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Esperance crowned champions as broken VAR wreaks havoc in African Champions League final

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Esperance of Tunisia retained their African Champions League crown amid bizarre scenes on Friday, when Wydad Casablanca refused to play on after having a goal disallowed and then walked off the pitch when the decision was not referred to the Video Assistant Referee.

With Esperance leading 2-1 on aggregate, Wydad thought they had equalised in the 59th minute when Ismail El Haddad put the ball in the back of the net.

However, referee Bakary Gassama disallowed the goal due to an infringement in the build-up and opted not to consult the VAR to check the decision.

That led to a stoppage as the Moroccan club’s players protested, with their reserves and coaching staff storming onto the pitch to harangue the referee, while Esperance supporters hurled objects at the Wydad bench.

Once tempers settled down, Wydad then refused to get the game back underway, continuing to argue with officials while the referee, from The Gambia, and the home side waited with the game suspended.

Confusion reigned as Confederation of African Football officials consulted with the referee with no one appearing to make a decision about whether to continue with the game.

Eventually, CAF President Ahmad Ahmad came down to the pitch with the respective club bosses but the debate continued without resolution, and with the delay continuing past 30 minutes Ahmad spoke to the referee.

Gassama then handed Wydad a warning to continue and a time limit to resume the game but the Moroccans refused, their players sitting on the bench or kicking a ball on the side of the field.

After a total delay of one hour and 25 minutes, Gassama blew his whistle to indicate the match had been abandoned and Esperance were declared champions.

The game kicked off at 10 p.m. local time to allow players and fans to break their fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the confusion continued early into Saturday morning.

At the time of the stoppage, Esperance were leading through Youcef Belaili’s 41st minute goal.

The striker curled in a strike from the edge of the area after a defence-splitting pass from talented wide man Aymen Ben Mohamed, who was born in London to an Irish mother and Tunisian father.

Esperance had held a 10-man Wydad to a 1-1 draw away in the first leg last Friday, where there were several contentious VAR decisions.

They are only the fourth club in the more than 50-year history of the competition to retain the title. The victory is their fourth in the continent’s top club competition after previous success In 1994, 2011 and last year.

Esperance celebrated the club’s centenary with an undefeated Champions League campaign, winning eight games and drawing four en route to the winners’ podium in a triumph for their 37-year-old coach Moine Chaabani.

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