We continue our latest series with Part 3 in CAF Champions League history, focusing on the 2000s.
The battle for supremacy in African football in this era can be easily broken down into two symmetric periods – the first five years (2000 to 2004) and the last five (2005 to 2009).
Having been threatened off their perch in the late 90s (just two finalists between 1995 and 1998), North African sides roared back in 1999 with an All-North final, despite Raja and Esperance playing to a dour 0-0 draw over 180 minutes.
2 – 1999 was only the 2nd time a African Cup/Champions League final was goalless over two legs, something which has not happened since (also 1993).
The first two finals of the new millennium would set the tone for what was to follow in the 2000s. Tunisia met Hearts of Oak in the 2000 Champions League final, while Sundowns met Al Ahly in the 2001 edition.
The West Africans won 5-2 in their face-off with the North, while the Southern Africans lost 4-1 in their face off with the North. It would be at least another decade until a Southern African side reached those heights again.
In contrast, the Asante Kotoko win was a huge boost for the Western region, who had lost 4 finals in 5 years between 1993 and 1997. What had looked like a North-to-South transition of power in the late 90s, was starting to resemble a North-vs-West titanic battle when one applied a microscope. The Western clubs won three of the first five titles in the 2000s, and as if this was not emphatic enough, all three final wins were against North African sides.
First, a Tunisian side were casualties, before a Moroccan and Egyptian side followed suit. The chief tormentor was Enyimba FC, who lifted their first ever title in 2003.
2 – Enyimba of Nigeria won the 2003 and 2004 CAF Champions League titles, becoming the first side since TP Mazembe in 1967-1968 to retain the African Cup/Champions League.
Late 2000s – Al Ahly establish their superiority.
The North African sides dominated the second half of the decade, but it was the relentless Al Ahly who started to cement their place as a lone giant of the continental game. The Red Devils appeared in 5 of the 10 finals this decade, winning four of them and losing just one.
Their Portuguese mentor Manuel Jose, main picture, led them to all four titles, cementing his reputation as a CAF legend. No other manager has won more than two Champions League titles. Coincidentally, this was around the time Portugal were also on the rise as a European superpower, having reached the Champions League final in 2004 (Porto), the Euro 2004 final and a certain Jose Mourinho beginning his charge on the famous Wenger-Ferguson duopoly.
6 – Al Ahly won their 6th African Cup/Champions league title in 2008, setting a record for a single side that still has not been matched today.
South African teams in the 2000s.
Current Chiefs co-coach Arthur Zwane played in the tournament in the 2000s, while current Al Ahly co-coach Pitso Mosimane managed SuperSport United in the competition in this decade. Their paths would later meet under extraordinary circumstances in 2021.
The Al Ahly “rivalry” with South African clubs also started to take shape here. The Red Devils either knocked out a South African team (3 times) or progressed from their group (once) in four of their five winning years this decade.
South African hopes were carried by numerous clubs in this period – Sundowns, Pirates, Chiefs, Santos, SuperSport and Platinum Stars all had their shots at glory. But it was an underwhelming period for a country that would soon host the 2010 World Cup. Besides Sundowns’ loss in the 2001 final, Pirates were the only other notable performer, narrowly losing out on the 2006 final, losing 1-0 on aggregate in the semis. All in all, there was a Northern side in the finals in nine of the ten finals in the 2000s, with six of those sides becoming victorious. It was only in 2009 that this was broken, with Nigeria’s Heartland FC and DRC’s TP Mazembe contesting the 2009 final.
In fact, there was not even a North African side in the Final Four that year, something that had not happened in almost 3 decades (1980 to 2008*).
Orlando Pirates and Sundowns
Once again, the 2010s (Part 4 in the series) would show that this was a temporary blip. *There was a brief period with no semis between 1997 and 2000s, as only two group winners went directly to the finals in that time.
African Cup/Champions League Winners by year, team and country in the 2000s:
2000: Hearts of Oak (Ghana)
2001: Al Ahly (Egypt)
2002: Zamalek SC (Egypt)
2003: Enyimba (Nigeria)
2004: Enyimba (Nigeria)
2005: Al Ahly (Egypt)
2006: Al Ahly (Egypt)
2007: Etoile du Sahel (Tunisia)
2008: Al Ahly (Egypt)
2009: Heartland FC (Nigeria)
RELATED STORY: STATS: CAF Champions League History Part 2 – The 90s
By Opta Jabu