'Huge' African Champions League wins 'one of the best things ever'

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Al Ahly celebrate winning the African Champions League title in 2020Al Ahly have won the past two African Champions League titles, in another era of North African dominance
Date: Monday, 30 May Venue: Stade Mohammed V Kick-off: 19:00 GMT

Lifting the African Champions League remains the pinnacle of the game for players on the continent, according to former winners Junior Ajayi and Mbwana Samatta.

Record 10-time victors Al Ahly face Wydad Casablanca in this season's final on Monday, a one-off match which will controversially be held in Morocco at Wydad's home ground.

Egyptian giants Ahly are seeking an unprecedented third title in a row, while Wydad are aiming for their third crown and a first since 2017.

"Winning two times in a row was one of the best things that has ever happened to me in football," Ajayi, 26, told BBC Sport Africa.

The Nigerian was part of the Al Ahly side which beat fierce Cairo rivals Zamalek in the 2020 final before retaining the trophy last July.

He holds fond memories of the celebrations, despite both victories coming behind closed doors because of coronavirus restrictions.

"The final against Zamalek was a very big one - it was the final of the century," the forward recalled. "When the final whistle was blown, there were tears of joy.

"[The journey] from the Cairo Stadium to my house is supposed to take a minute, but I had to spend almost five hours before I could get in my house because the whole street was so full with fans rejoicing, shouting and singing.

"The memories will live with me forever. I cannot deny the fact it is one of the greatest moments in my life."

Meanwhile, Tanzania international Samatta was top scorer with TP Mazembe when the DR Congo club triumphed in 2015.

"I didn't realise the magnitude until I reached the final and won the competition," the 29-year-old, who now plays in Europe, told BBC Sport Africa.

"It's huge. So many people are watching, so many people follow you after winning the competition.

"It's very natural that someone is very proud when they win a championship and winning the African Champions League is a great achievement for African players."

Fans and geography aid North Africans

Wydad Casablanca fans during an African Champions League quarter-final tieWydad Casablanca fans help make the Stade Mohammed V an intimidating venue for visiting sides

North African clubs have dominated the competition in recent years - winning nine of the past 11 titles - and this year's final is the fifth all-North African affair in the past six seasons.

Ajayi thinks passionate support has been a major influence in seeing clubs from Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia dominate the continent.

"The fans are one of the reasons why they're always at the top of the competition," he said.

Al Ahly - who meet Wydad in their home stadium on Monday 30 May - have complained about their unfair advantage in their home stadium, which was designated to host the final just three weeks ago.

The Egyptians believe the partisan crowd could strongly influence the result of the final.

"I think back to my own experience, because the fans are so demanding. The pressure is on the players because you have to win every single game in the competition to get to the final.

"They don't settle for draws - even when they win, they have to win convincingly."

Samatta believes the North Africans' geographical proximity to Europe has also been key to a success which is also built upon greater wealth than many clubs on the continent.

"I think it is the way they oversee football," Samatta, who spent this season on loan at Antwerp from Fenerbahce, said.

"This could be a huge factor because they are close to Europe and this could be a way to make them similar in some aspects as to how they manage their clubs.

"We know European countries are successful. I believe their proximity to European countries has helped them."

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