Ghana’s Berekum Chelsea denies bribery report

The African Champions League was again unsettled and undermined

by controversy Monday when Ghanaian club Berekum Chelsea denied

being offered money by four-time winner and 2010 Club World Cup

finalist T.P. Mazembe to lose their final group game.

Less than a month after E.S. Sahel was thrown out of the

competition for fan unrest in its Tunisian derby against Esperance,

Berekum called a news report in Tunisia ”utterly false” after it

alleged bribes were offered at a meeting by Mazembe officials to

throw Sunday’s Group B game.

Mazembe has just returned to the often troubled continental club

competition after being disqualified last year for fielding an

ineligible player.

The report alleged Mazembe – a surprise finalist at the Club

World Cup two years ago – wanted Berekum to lose to it so the

Congolese team could finish top of their group and avoid Group A

winner and defending champion Esperance of Tunisia in next month’s

semifinals.

Already eliminated, Berekum won 1-0 to send Mazembe into a

two-legged last-four tie against Esperance. Egypt’s Al Ahly will

play Sunshine Stars of Nigeria in the other semifinal.

”Our attention has been drawn to a publication by a Tunisian

news portal that T.P. Mazembe officials offered to bribe Berekum

Chelsea to influence the result of our game on Sunday,” Berekum

chief executive Nana Kwame Nketiah said in a statement Monday. ”We

wish to state categorically that this report is utterly

false.”

Nketiah denied any meeting with Mazembe officials took place

ahead of the game and warned media ”to desist from spreading such

false reports or we will be forced to take legal action to salvage

our hard-earned reputation.”

Mazembe gained fame two years ago when it became the first

African team to reach the Club World Cup final, beating clubs from

United Arab Emirates, Mexico and Brazil before eventually losing to

then European champion Inter Milan. Last season it was thrown out

of Africa’s top club competition for using Congo international

defender Janvier Bokungu when he wasn’t registered with the

club.

Tunisia’s Sahel was disqualified from this year’s version after

supporters threw stones, bottles and firecrackers and invaded the

pitch in the second half of the game against Esperance last month.

The referee stopped the match in the 69th minute with Esperance

leading 2-0 and all Sahel’s results in the group stage were

subsequently canceled.

In the other Group B game Sunday, Al Ahly drew 1-1 with Cairo

rival Zamalek but still topped the group ahead of Mazembe to set up

a semifinal meeting with Sunshine Stars.

Esperance qualified first in Group A despite a 1-0 loss at

Algeria’s ASO Chlef which prevented the Tunisian giant from setting

a record for consecutive games unbeaten in the African Champions

League.

Esperance was undefeated in 19 games to equal Al Ahly’s record –

set between the 2004 and 2006 seasons – before the loss on

Algeria’s Mediterranean coast.