Ghana's Berekum Chelsea deny bribery report
Less than a month after ES 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 Democratic Republic of Congo's Mazembe 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 TP 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 on 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, 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 cancelled.
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. – Sapa-AP