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Team forfeits CAF Champions League final after VAR malfunction devolves into chaos

Raja Casablanca Training Session - FIFA Club World Cup

MARRAKECH, MOROCCO - DECEMBER 20: Faouzi Benzarti, coach of Raja Casablanca watches a training session outside the Marrakech Stadium on December 20, 2013 in Marrakech, Morocco. (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)

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Moroccan side Wydad Casablanca forfeited the CAF Champions League final after an hour-long protest for an incorrect refereeing decision and a VAR debacle at the match in Tunisia.

Gambian referee Bakari Gassama ruled out a 58th minute goal by Wydad midfielder Walid El Karti, and VAR was unavailable for consultation due to a technical malfunction. According to London-based Egyptian reporter Ahmad Yousef, the teams were not informed of the malfunction, and Wydad refused to re-take the pitch over the decision.

With the forfeiture, Tunisian club Esperance de Tunis was crowned 2019 CAF Champions League winners, the club’s fourth continental championship.

Yousef also posted video of a fight breaking out inside the tunnel, which he reports is players and fans coming to blows after the abandonment of the match. Other videos of fan unrest around the stadium also made their way to social media.

The 1-1 first-leg draw in Morocco was also marred with controversy, as Egyptian referee Gehad Grisha was suspended for six months after a pair of incorrect decisions were made despite having consulted VAR. That brought Gassama into the mix to officiate the second leg.

As a whole, the incidents are a bad look for African football less than a month before the start of the African Cup of Nations. Wydad Casablanca received widespread criticism for refusing to continue playing simply for a referee decision against the club, while VAR controversies continue to plague the CAF. Last year’s Champions League final second leg was also dealt a VAR blow when the technology malfunctioned before kickoff of the second leg, but the teams were at least informed of the situation before kickoff. That game saw Esperance win 3-0 to complete an aggregate comeback to beat Al Ahly 4-3 over the two legs.

Faouzi Benzarti, formerly in charge of the Tunisian national team on multiple occasions, is the current manager of Wydad. It is unclear what his role was in the team’s refusal to re-take the pitch.

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