The second instalment of our CAF Champions League History series focuses on a golden period for South African and Southern African football in general – the 90s.
The West and Central African domination of the 60s and 70s had been usurped by North African Clubs in the 80s, whose superiority similarly overlapped into the early 90s.
South Africa’s return to international sport would coincide with the region’s rise in the CAF Champions League.
Early 90s: North Africa stamps its authority
North African clubs had ended the 80s with a run of six consecutive titles shared between Egypt (3), Morocco (2) and Algeria (1). The region boasted the strongest leagues and teams at the time, and this was also evident in the first ever All-North African final in 1989.
This would continue into the early 90s, with five successive North African winners between 1990 and 1994. Yet, the challengers in these early 90s African Cup finals were interesting and varied – Southern Africa (Nkana Red Devils, Zambia), East Africa (SC Villa, Uganda; Al-Hilal of Sudan) and West Africa (Asante Kotoko, Ghana). All came home empty handed, but given that two losing finalists only lost on penalty shootouts, the alarm bells for North African sides were starting to sound.
In 1994, Zamalek and Esperance squared off in a second All-North final in 5 years, re-establishing the North’s superiority briefly, but momentum had started to shift – and for once, it was coming south.
14 – Between 1981 and 1994, there was at least one North-African team in every African Cup final – a run going 14 consecutive years.
Orlando Pirates would help break that streak in 1995.
Mid-90s: South Africa enters the scene, Orlando Pirates lift the Cup.
South Africa re-entered the international scene, with FIFA membership confirmed at the Congress held in Zurich in June of 1992. Kaizer Chiefs were representatives in 1993, but lost to eventual champions Zamalek on away goals in the 2nd round. Sundowns were representatives the following year, and once again they lost out on away goals at the same stage as Chiefs the year before. A 2nd stage hoodoo was in the making when Pirates were drawn to face Nigerian champions BCC Lions at the same stage.
This was the year after Nigeria had returned from the World Cup, and the Lions side featured AFCON winners from 1994. But Pirates progressed, adding a 1-0 home win to a 1-1 away draw (Bruce Ramokadi
with a late away goal). The rest is history.
1 – Orlando Pirates won the African Cup in 1995, becoming the first Southern African side to lift the title.
This was a momentous victory for many reasons, among them that it was the first final without a North-African in 15 years.
Mid-90s: Southern Africa starts to make its mark.
The Pirates win proved to be a catalyst for Southern Africa in many ways. The next few years would be crucial, in deciding who (if anyone) would wrestle supremacy away from the North.
South Africa’s 2-0 defeat of Tunisia in the 1996 Africa Cup of Nations final would have echoed the belief that the tide was heading south. But there was more. Between 1994 and 1998, Southern African sides reached the AFCON final three times in a row – Zambia in 1994, South Africa in 1996 and 1998. To provide context in how much of an achievement this was for the region, only two Southern sides have reached the final outside this period. The first Southern nation also went to the World Cup (South Africa in 1998).
It was not just on the national side that things were looking better for the South. On the club front, the North’s loss of influence was epitomised by a decline in their appearances in the final of the premier club tournament.
2 – Only two of the eight African Cup/Champions League finalists between 1995 & 1998 came from North Africa.
Late 90s: A golden opportunity for Southern Africa.
1997 marked the birth of the current CAF Champions League format, around the time the South was making strides. Ronald Mkhandawire of Zambia was caretaker coach as Pirates won the 1995 final, while Zimbabwean side Dynamos reached the 1998 final also led by a Zimbabwean coach in Sunday Chidzambwa (future Black Leopards coach).
Southern Africa was also represented in the 1997 CAF Cup and 1998 Cup Winners Cup finals (the tournaments that would later be merged into the CAF Confederation Cup).
Between 1996 and 1998, a South African side would reach the last eight of the premier club competition (Pirates twice, and Manning Rangers once). Regionally, Southern Africa’s influence was also growing:
1994 – 2 quarter-finalists.
1995 – 2 quarter-finalists.
1996 – 2 quarter-finalists.
1997 – 3 quarter-finalists.
1998 – 3 quarter-finalists.
But just as Southern Africa was starting to show signs of ascendancy, the North Africans would roar back at the end of the decade. Two North African sides – Raja Casablanca and Esperance reached the Champions League final in 1999. From here, North Africa would never look back (Details of the 2000s in Part 3 of our series).
African Cup/Champions League Winners by year, team and country in the 90s:
1990: JS Kabylie (Algeria)
1991: Club Africain (Tunisia)
1992: Wydad AC (Morocco)
1993: Zamalek (Egypt)
1994: Espérance (Tunisia)
1995: Orlando Pirates (South Africa)
1996: Zamalek (Egypt)
1997: Raja Casablanca (Morocco)
1998: ASEC Mimosas (Ivory Coast)
1999: Raja Casablanca (Morocco)
RELATED STORY: STATS: CAF Champions League History Part 1
By Opta Jabu