Like the rest of the sporting world, African football was subjected to a tumultuous 2020, hit not only by the novel COVID-19 but also by on-going scandal.
Competition was halted in March, as was the case around the globe, except for the small East African country of Burundi, who continued to play despite a near worldwide shutdown.
But while Europe took just several months to get their league restarted again, the myriad of differing regulations across Africa left most borders shut and it was only in October that international competition resumed.
Even then, most African national teams went to Europe to play a week of friendly matches rather than risk COVID-19 lockdowns on the continent when national teams resumed playing in October.
The pandemic ensured that all this year’s drama was crammed into the last two months of the season, although the on-field spectacle was matched by activity off it.
The much-anticipated suspension of Confederation of African Football president Ahmad Ahmad of Madagascar was handed down by Fifa’s ethics committee, more than a year after allegations of fraud, theft and sexual harassment were first levelled against him.
The timing of his five-year ban came just days before the closure of nominations for the next Caf presidential elections, to be held in March, ruling Ahmad out of an attempted comeback even if he wins his appeal at the Court of Arbitration in Sport.
He is not the first confederation president to be suspended in such a manner but it is of major embarrassment to Africa to have its leadership so sullied by corruption.
It would have mattered little, however, to genuine fans who had to wait more than six months before seeing Al Ahly of Egypt win the African Champions League.
Magdi Afsha scored with just four minutes remaining, burying a long-range scorcher into the net with a strike worthy of winning any final.
That it came against arch-rivals Zamalek made it even sweeter for the Ahly, whose record number of titles in the continent’s top club competition now advances to nine and sends them to February’s Club World Cup in Qatar.
It also reinforces the Cairo club’s position as the most successful in Africa club football, even though it was their first Champions League title in seven years.
A poor defensive clearance bounced perfectly for Afsha outside the box to half volley the shot home for a 2-1 victory.
Ahly, who had been far too strong for Wydad Casablanca in the two-legged semi-finals, went ahead as early as the fifth minute as Amr El Sulaya rose to head home a corner.
But Zamalek were level just past the half-hour mark after a sublime bit of skill from the veteran Mahmoud Shikabala, who had only made the starting line-up after Youssef Ibrahim had tested positive for the novel coronavirus and been fed out of the contest.
Shikabala picked the ball up on the right-wing, weaved his way inside, twisting and turning several defenders before a left-footed shot planted the ball in the top corner.
Zamalek, whose semifinal success had also come against Moroccan opposition, proved surprisingly feisty and competitive in a game that Ahly were much fancied to win.
But it boiled down to a moment of magic in the end to decide a competition that was supposed to conclude in May but battled to get back on track with the disparate Covid-19 pandemic lockdown rules and regulations across the continent.
Both clubs had changed their coaches just weeks before the resumption at the semi-final stage with Portuguese veteran Jaime Pacheco taking over at Zamalek and Ahly hiring Pitso Mosimane from South Africa after the Swiss Rene Weiler went home during the pandemic.
Mosimane now joins an elite group of multiple African Champions League winners.
It was the first time, since the inaugural edition of the old-style Champions Cup in 1965, that the final was played as a single match after the Confederation of African Football, somewhat bizarrely, sought to belatedly emulate what their European counterparts have done for decades.
The Confederation Cup was concluded in a mini tournament in Morocco where Renaissance Berkane won a continental title for the first time, edging Egypt’s Pyramids FC in the final in Rabat. Centre-back Issoufou Dayo scored the winner in the 15th minute.
Qualifiers resumed in November in the battle for Africa Cup of Nations places at the finals in Cameroon, which have been moved back a year from January 2021 to 2022.
Holders Algeria, Mali, Senegal and Tunisia secured qualification with two rounds of preliminaries still to play but other heavyweight contenders like Ghana and Nigeria were tripped up in their bid for early qualification, although are still expected to reach the 24-team finals.
A victory for the Comoros Islands set off exuberant celebrations in the tiny island nation as they moved close to historic qualification while South Sudan, unlikely to qualify, managed a rare win in a competitive international when they beat Uganda on neutral territory in Nairobi.
On the domestic front, Nkana FC extended their record number of wins in the Zambia Super League to 13 with victory on goal-difference over Forest Rangers in a shortened 2019-20 campaign.
Rangers could have claimed a first title but were held to a 0-0 draw in their final game of the season and blew their chance.
The Nigeria Professional Football League was cancelled after 25 rounds with no champions declared, though Plateau United held a handy four-point lead as they sought to add to their 2017 success.
The Ethiopian league was halted after 17 rounds and no champion declared either, but the new season got underway in December with SuperSport having taken over as broadcast partner to bring the competition to audiences across Africa.
Here is a list of the champions of various African leagues where a winner was declared this year:
Algeria – CR Belouizdad
Botswana – Jwaneng Galaxy
Burundi – Le Messager Ngozi
Cameroon – PWD Bamenda
Chad – Gazelle
Comoros – US Zilimadjou
Congo – AS Otohô
Djibouti – GR/SIAF
DR Congo – TP Mazembe
Egypt – Al Ahly
Eswatini – Young Buffaloes
Ivory Coast – RC Abidjan
Kenya – Gor Mahia
Lesotho – Bantu FC
Mali – Stade Malien
Mauritania – FC Nouadhibou
Morocco – Raja Casablanca
Rwanda – APR
South Africa – Mamelodi Sundowns
Somalia – Mogadishu City
Sudan – Al Merrikh
Tanzania – Simba FC
Togo – ASKO Kara
Tunisia – Espérance de Tunis
Uganda – Vipers
Zambia – Nkana FC
Zanzibar – Mlandege