At the start of the tournament, Algerian football officials had tried to persuade ES Setif not to take up the opportunity of playing in the Champions League as they feared they would not be competitive enough. The league's runners-up, USM El Harrach, withdrew for that reason after the draw had already been made. Good then that the Black Eagles stayed the course and won the fifth title for Algeria, pulling the North African country alongside Congo DR, Morocco and Cameroon with the most number of titles behind Egypt.
Although ES Setif won the competition in 1988, they have blown more cold than hot since then, with 2010 being the only time before this year that they had reached the group phase. This time around, the club from Setif received a walk-over into the first round after Gambian club Steve Biko withdrew in the preliminary round. Setif then had few problems in overcoming ASFA Yennenga 5-0 on aggregate after winning the first match 5-0 at home. In the second round they managed two 1-0 victories against veteran Cameroon club Coton Sport to qualify for the group phase, where they were drawn into a group with North African rivals Esperance, CS Sfaxien and Al Ahly Benghazi.
Somewhat unexpectedly, Setif advanced from the group phase without winning a single game at home, being held to draws by all three visiting clubs. Their form on the road was far more impressive as they beat Al Ahly Benghazi and Esperance and drew at Sfaxien to finish the group phase with 10 points – one less than Sfaxien, but good enough to make it to the semi-finals. In the round of the last-four the Algerian side faced TP Mazembe, who were looking for a fifth title. Setif won the first leg 2-1 with veteran striker Abdelmalek Ziaya scoring a last-gasp goal to the delight of the home fans in the Stade 8 Mai 1945. The same player opened the scoring in the return leg, but as Mazembe hit back with three goals of their own, they were looking the more likely to advance to the final. However, Sofiane Younes made the final score 3-2 and helped Setif advance to the final on the away goal rule.
Setif coach Kheireddine Madoui found a fine mix between veteran players like strikers Sofiane Younes, Abdelmalek Ziaya or defender Farid Mellouli on the one hand and talented youngsters like midfielders Akram Djahnit and El Hedi Belameiri and goalkeeper Sofiane Khedairia on the other. Belameiri was joint top scorer in the competition with six goals, while Younes and Ziaya shared the four goals in the semi-finals. Younes also grabbed the all-important goal in the second leg of the final that helped the Black Eagles to a 1-1 draw and victory on the away-goals rule.
Madoui's counterpart Florent Ibenge had a very strong forward line that came through repeatedly right until the final, when their goals suddenly dried up. Ndombe Mubele scored six times overall, while Rwandan defender Lema Mabidi added four, including all three scored by Vita Club in the final tie. There were a number of other attacking players who stood out, like Zimbabwean Edward Sadomba who was impressive as Al Ahly Benghazi knocked out the defending champions Al Ahly from Cairo and young Sfaxien striker Fakhreddine Ben Youssef.
In the absence of several big name clubs – like the defending champions Al Ahly, or South African glamour club Kaizer Chiefs – from the group phase of the competition, several so-called minnows of African club football made names for themselves. The biggest surprise were undoubtedly Al Ahly Benghazi, who sensationally knocked out their Cairo namesakes. Before this year, the Libyan club's best performance was in 1973, when they advanced to the second round. What made their fairytale run even more remarkable is that they had to play their home games in Tunisia due to the security situation in Libya. AS Real Bamako knocked out two-time winners Enyimba in the first round, while Guinea's Horoya similarly shocked three-time winners Raja Casablanca.
8 – Vita Club were considered the weaker of Congo DR's two teams participating in the competition, but while big-spending TP Mazembe were knocked out in the semi-finals, the team from Kinshasa made it a round further. Much of their success was based on a tremendous home form, that saw them play all eight games at home without defeat. They won six matches and drew two.
What they said
"We have gone through some very difficult times [in Algeria], and this title is something of a consolation. This is a unique day. We fought and deserved to win. I dedicate the victory to my family and all Algerians, especially supporters of ES Setif, who have been behind us during difficult times. I will never forget them. We should now celebrate together since it is a unique moment. And for the FIFA Club World Cup, we will think about it when it comes." ES Setif striker Sofiane Younes
Did you know?
ES Setif will be the first team from Algeria to participate in the FIFA Club World Cup. The previous four times Algerian clubs lifted the continental crown the competition was not held.