45 years of Africa's showpiece
© AFP

It all started with 14 teams more than four decades ago and has grown into a competition with continent-wide television coverage and millions in prize money.

The CAF Champions League had humble origins but grand ambitions, when it was first launched in 1964, and has quickly become the ultimate club prize in African football. Ghanaian Ohene Djan, later to become a prominent member of the Confederation of African Football’s executive committee - and after whom Accra’s new stadium is named - is credited with being the driving force behind the creation of the original CAF Champions Cup, as Africa’s football enthusiasts marvelled at the exploits of Real Madrid in Europe’s club showpiece.

Teams from countries south of the Sahara dominated the competition’s early years but, over time, the pendulum of success has swung northwards towards teams from the Arabic-speaking nations. Yet the annual competition remains eagerly-awaited throughout the continent, and the participation of 54 teams this year reflects the huge interest.

There have, in fact, been more entrants in the past, but for many of the continent’s smaller countries and less wealthy clubs, the expense of playing is proving more prohibitive in the current economic climate, even if there are rich spoils for clubs who reach the latter stages. Prize money from television and marketing revenue was ratcheted up recently from a total of US $3.5 million to some US $5 million, with a cheque for $1.5 million of offer to the winner. Such sums represent a fortune in African terms, and provide successful teams with a profitable bounty on which to take the club forward.

It is a long way from the centralised tournament that marked the start of what was then called the African Clubs Championship. Ghana’s government hosted the tournament and the donated a trophy, named after the country’s president. Oryx Douala upset hopes of a home triumph by winning the first-ever ‘Nkrumah Trophy’ at the end of a mini-tournament in Accra that kicked off on 31 January 1965. The other participants were Real Republicans from the home nation, Cotton Factory of Ethiopia and Mali’s Stade Malien, who lost 2-1 to Oryx in the final.

The following year saw the tournament switch to a knockout format over two legs, a system to which it has remained faithful ever since. In 1977, it was proposed that the final be held as a single match at a neutral venue, but this idea was ultimately rejected by CAF’s member associations.

Egypt’s Al Ahly have won the continental title most often: six times in total, with three of these triumphs coming over the last five years. This recent success has seen the Cairo giants overtake the five successes of their arch-rivals and neighbours, Zamalek. Egyptian clubs have, in fact, won 12 titles in total – Ismaili were their first winners in 1969 – which is seven more than the second-most successful nations, Cameroon and Morocco, who have five each.

Last year’s triumph for TP Mazembe Englebert of Congo DR was their third overall but their first in four decades and leaves them next on the list of most successful clubs with Hafia of Guinea and Morocco’s Raja Casablanca, who are back in the field for the 2010 edition. Al Ahly, meanwhile, have played in eight finals, one more than Asante Kotoko. Of the Ghanaians’ seven appearances, five have ended in defeat.

The away goals rule was only introduced in 1974, but penalty shootouts were first played as early as 1971. Sudan’s Al Merreikh won the first-ever shootout against Tele Asmara of Ethiopia but ironically lost by the same means in the next round to Asante Kotoko.

It was in 1997 that the modern day Champions League was introduced, with the last eight competing in a league format in two groups of four. The first winners were Raja Casablanca, who beat Goldfields of Ghana on penalties to lift the new trophy. This year’s entrants include the champions of CAF’s newest members, the Comoros Islands, and two affiliates, Reunion and Zanzibar.

Past Winners
1965 – Oryx Douala (Cameroon)
1966 – Stade Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire)
1967 – TP Englebert (Congo-Kinshasa)
1968 – TP Englebert (Congo-Kinshasa)
1969 – Ismaili (Egypt)
1970 – Asante Kotoko (Ghana)
1971 – Canon Yaounde (Cameroon)
1972 – Hafia Conakry (Guinea)
1973 – Vita Club (Zaire)
1974 – CARA Brazzaville (Congo)
1975 – Hafia Conakry (Guinea)
1976 – Mouloudia Alger (Algeria)
1977 – Hafia Conakry (Guinea)
1978 – Canon Yaounde (Cameroon)
1979 – Union Douala (Cameroon)
1980 – Canon Yaounde (Cameroon)
1981 – JE Tizi Ouzou (Algeria)
1982 – Al Ahly (Egypt)
1983 – Asante Kotoko (Ghana)
1984 – Zamalek (Egypt)
1985 – Royal Armed Forces (Morocco)
1986 – Zamalek (Egypt)
1987 – Al Ahly (Egypt)
1988 – Entente Setif (Algeria)
1989 – Raja Casablanca (Morocco)
1990 – JS Kabylie (Algeria)
1991 – Club Africain (Tunisia)
1992 – Wydad Casablanca (Morocco)
1993 – Zamalek (Egypt)
1994 – Esperance (Tunisia)
1995 – Orlando Pirates (South Africa)
1996 – Zamalek (Egypt)
1997 – Raja Casablanca (Morocco)
1998 – ASEC Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire)
1999 – Raja Casablanca (Morocco)
2000 – Hearts of Oak (Ghana)
2001 – Al Ahly (Egypt)
2002 – Zamalek (Egypt)
2003 – Enyimba (Nigeria)
2004 – Enyimba (Nigeria)
2005 – Al Ahly (Egypt)
2006 – Al Ahly (Egypt)
2007 – Etoile Sahel (Tunisia)
2008 - Al Ahly (Egypt)
2009 – TP Mazembe Englebert (Congo DR)