By TUMO MOKONE
For the umpteenth time South African football will watch from the sidelines as the championship match of the CAF Champions League take place on Saturday November 13. This time, though, it will be slightly different as SA’s top referee Daniel Bennett will be in charge of the proceedings as defending champions, TP Mazembe of DR Congo, seek back-to-back titles.
The DRC giants from Lumbubashi, Katanga, take a massive 5-0 lead to Tunisian hosts Esperance de Tunis. The match takes place at the Stade de 7 Novembre in Rades, 10km south-west of Tunis.
Les Corbeaux (The Crows), as the Congolese team are known, were magical in the first leg played at their impenetrable fortress, Stade de Kenya. The huge lead has made many commentators agree that the match in Tunisia is merely a formality, and that Mazembe will repeat their 1967 and 1968 double. Esperance, who have just been fined heavily by CAF for crowd trouble, have promised its fans a fight-back of epic proportions.
Though it’s good to hear “The Blood and Gold” are not giving up, the danger of their fighting talk is that failure in the face of raised hopes may irk its troublesome supporters to react violently. That will be one of many challenges Bennett will be facing as the referee.
The highly experienced middleman should have impressed CAF to trust him with this potentially explosive encounter. This is a major step forward for the Johannesburg-born whistleman, who in 2009 was in charge of the first leg in the final of the CAF Confederation Cup, between Algeria’s Entente Setif and eventual winners Stade Malien of Mali on November 29.
Earlier in 2009, in February, he took charge of the CAF Super Cup match between Al Ahly of Egypt and Tunisia’s CS Sfaxien in Cairo. Ahly won 2-1. Strangely enough, Bennett was refereeing in his first Africa Cup of Nations in its 27th edition played in Angola earlier this year.
He handled three matches in total, including the semifinal showdown between Ghana and Nigeria on January 28. Ghana won 1-0 at the Estadio 11 de November. In Rades Bennett will be assisted by compatriots Zakhele Siwela and Luyanda Somi with Abdul Ebrahim serving as the fourth official. Here’s hoping the presence of this contigent of SA referees in the final match will inspire South African clubs to seek African glory through the Champions League tournament.
The winner does not only take home bragging rights of being Africa’s No. 1 club, but also the $1.5m (R10.3m) first prize. The biggest reward for being Champions League winner though is a chance to play at FIFA’s Club World Cup in December.
• Kickoff is 6pm Tunisia time.