The CAF Champions League is an annual international club football competition run by the Confederation of African Football (CAF). The top club sides from Africa's football leagues are invited to participate in this competition, which is the premier club football competition on the continent and the equivalent to the UEFA Champions League. Due to sponsorship reasons, the official name is Orange CAF Champions League, with Orange Champions League also in use.
The winner of the tournament earns a berth in the FIFA Club World Cup, a tournament contested between the champion clubs from all six continental confederations.
Initially, the competition saw the league champions of each national league existing under the jurisdiction of the CAF coming together over a 12 month period of home and away knock-out fixtures until the quarter-final, semi-final and final stage was reached for the winning team to be declared the African champion of champions.
There was no tournament held the following year, but the action resumed again in 1966, when the two-legged ‘home and away’ final was introduced, which saw another Malian team AS Real Bamako take on Stade d'Abidjan of the Côte d'Ivoire. Bamako won the home leg 3-1 but it all came apart for them in the away game in Abidjan as the Ivorians went on to win 4-1 to take the title 5-4 on aggregate.
In 1967 when Ghana's Asante Kotoko met the DRC's TP Mazembe, both matches ended in draws (1-1 and 2-2 respectively). CAF suggested a play-off, but the Ghanaians refused to compete and the title was handed to Mazembe, who went on to win the title again the following year.
However, the Ghanaians got their revenge in 1970, when Kotoko and Mazembe once again met in the final. Once again, the first game ended 1-1 but against expectation the Ghanaians ran out 2-1 winners in their away game to lift the title that had eluded them three years earlier.
The 1970s saw a remarkable rise in the fortunes of Cameroonian club football, which created the platform of success enjoyed by Cameroonian football at international level today. Between 1971 and 1980 Cameroonian teams won the cup four times, with Canon Yaoundé taking three titles (1971, 1978 and 1980) and US Douala lifting the cup in 1979. In between the Cameroonian victories the honor was shared with another team enjoying a golden age, Guinean side Hafia Conakry, who won it three times during this period (1972, 1975 and 1977).
Although only two North African teams had ever won the title before 1981 - Egypt's Ismaily in 1969, and Algeria's MC Alger in 1976 - since then, North Africa's teams have dominated the championship, between them winning the title on no fewer than 22 out of the last 28 tournaments.
Particularly dominant have been the two Egyptian giants and Cairo-based arch-rivals, Al Ahly and Zamalek. The Cairo ‘Red Devils’ (Al Ahly) have won it a record eight occasions- in 1982, 1987, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2012 and 2013; while the Cairo ‘White Knights’ (Zamalek) have taken the honours on five occasions - 1984, 1986, 1993, 1996 and 2002.
Another North African team that has made a big impression in this tournament is Morocco's Raja Casablanca, who has emerged victorious three times – in 1989, 1997 and 1999.
Apart from the introduction of the away goals rule (in which the team wins which has scored more goals playing ‘away’ if there is a tie in the aggregate score line over the two legs), very little changed in this competition until 1997. In this year, CAF took the bold step to follow the lead established a few years earlier in UEFA by creating a league stage in the tournament and changing the name to the CAF Champions League. CAF also introduced prize money for participants for the first time.
With a purse of US$1 million on offer to the winners and US$750,000 to the losing finalist, the new Champions League had become the second richest club competition in Africa after the ABSA Premiership worth $2 million. In the new format, the league champions of the respective CAF member countries went through a series of preliminary rounds until a last 16 stage. The 8 winners of this round were then drawn into two mini-leagues of 4 teams each, with each team playing each other on a home and away basis. At the end of the league stage, the top two teams in each group meet in the semifinals, with the winners going through to contest the finals.
From the 2009 season, the winners purse was increased to US$1.5 million and the runners up to US$1 million.
In 2010, TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of the Congo became the first club ever to repeat as champions on two separate occasions. Their first pair of wins came in 1967 and 1968, before repeating the feat again in 2009 and 2010.
Scheduling, structure, and venues are some of the problems which the CAF faces.
Many feel the competition should schedule their fixtures to timelines like the UEFA Champions League. The African Champions League usually begins around January and finishes around November. Most (but not all) of the African national domestic leagues begin around July, August, or September and finish around April, May, or June. Because not all national domestic leagues begin around the same time, fixtures to this competition are organized poorly. Most national league administrators want to align the African Champions League to their national domestic leagues. The only way to fix this problem is to co-ordinate all national domestic leagues in Africa with the African Champions League.
Many national associations want the competition expanded to 16 teams in the group stage. The stronger national leagues feel the competition would be more profitable and successful by awarding extra spots to their leagues.
In 1997 the CAF Champions League replaced the previous pan-African competition, the African Cup of Champions Clubs; this had run from 1964–1996 .
The competition is open to the winners of all CAF-affiliated national leagues, as well as the holder of the competition from the previous season. From the 2004 competition the runner-up of the league of the 12 highest-ranked countries also entered the tournament creating a 64-team field. This was in response to the merging of the CAF Cup, the secondary pan-African club competition where the league runner-ups would previous play, with the CAF Cup Winners' Cup to create the CAF Confederation Cup. The 12 countries would be ranked on the performance of their clubs in the previous 5 years.
The Champions League operates as a knockout competition, with a final group stage, with each tie (including the final) played over two legs - home and away. There are 3 knockout stages: the preliminary stage, the first round (32 teams) and the second round (16 teams). The 8 teams knocked out of the second round are entered into the Confederation Cup to play against the final 8 teams in that competition. After the second round, the last 8 teams are split into two groups of 4. The winner and runner-up in these groups are sent to play in a semi-final for the chance of contesting the final.