The second leg of the 1966 CAF African Champions League Final was played on Christmas Day. It proved to be a festive game with one of the all-time great fightbacks in the history of the tournament.
Al Ahly’s victory in the 2020 CAF African Champions League Final over fierce rivals Zamalek saw them extend their record as they became African champions for the ninth time. The much-delayed game had been scheduled for May, but Covid forced its postponement to the end of November. The delay brought back memories of when the Final was always a feature of the build-up to the Christmas period. Indeed, on one occasion, in 1966, the second leg of the Final was played on Christmas Day itself. And what a festive game it proved to be with one of the all-time great fightbacks in the history of the tournament.
In 1966, organised continental club football in Africa was in its infancy. The year before, Oryx Douala from Cameroon had beaten Mali’s Stade Malien in the first Final of the African Club Championship to win the N’Krumah Cup, named after Ghana’s trail blazing independence leader Kwame N’Krumah. Only nine teams played in the first tournament, and of the 12 teams that took part in 1966, all but two of them came from the newly independent countries of West Africa.
The holders Oryx were given a bye to the semi-finals but were beaten by Mali’s Real Bamako, who boasted a 20-year-old Salif Keita. Keita, or Domingo as he was known, was already regarded as the star of African football and he would go on to achieve fame and fortune in Europe with Saint-Etienne and Valencia. In 1970 he was voted the first African Footballer of the Year in the annual poll by France Football. In the Final, Keita and his team mates would meet Stade d’Abidjan from the Côte d’Ivoire, who had beaten Sudanese champions Al Hilal in the semis.
Keita seemed to have given Real Bamako one hand on the Cup with two goals in the first leg at the Stade Omnisports in Bamako. A third from team captain Idrissa Touré, who was known as Nani, ensured a 3-1 lead to defend in the second leg, two weeks later on Christmas Day in Abidjan.
The Stade Félix Houphouet-Boigny in the Ivorian capital of Abidjan is perhaps amongst the most picturesque in the world. Nestling on the shores of one of the many lagoons around which the city is built, it has been at the centre of Ivorian football since 1952. The academy of Ivorian club ASEC Mimosas is situated on the facing shore giving the young hopefuls a glimpse of what their future might hold. But in 1966, it was the supporters of Stade d’Abidjan, by far the most successful club in the country at that time, who made their way to the stadium on Christmas Day.