Sunday 12 November 2023, 19:30

FIFA President says "African football won today" after first African Football League final

  • Gianni Infantino says inaugural continental competition is a boost to world game

  • Attends final second leg as Mamelodi Sundowns FC crowned 1st AFL champions

  • Talks football development in country with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa

FIFA President Gianni Infantino has said the creation of the African Football League (AFL) has made a positive contribution to world football after seeing South African big-hitters Mamelodi Sundowns FC crowned the new competition's inaugural champions by defeating Wydad Athletic Club in the final.

After attending the competition's opening fixture in Tanzania last month, Mr Infantino was at the Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria, South Africa, on Sunday to see the Sundowns win 2-0 to overturn their 2-1 first-leg deficit to their heavyweight Moroccan opponents, and become the first team to lift the AFL trophy.

"What an incredible atmosphere here in Pretoria, South Africa. The first-ever final of the African Football League. Mamelodi Sundowns won, congratulations to them. Congratulations as well to Wydad Casablanca, who played a remarkable match," said Mr Infantino on the pitch amid the full-time celebrations.

"Great game, great atmosphere, this public is a champion already. African football won today. This is a great day for Africa, it's a great day for football, it's a great day for the world."

The AFL is the latest result of the partnership between the Confederation of African Football (CAF) and FIFA, who supported CAF in the competition's launch. Its debut format brought together eight of Africa’s most famous and successful teams — Wydad, the Sundowns, Tout Puissant Mazembe (Congo DR), Espérance Sportive de Tunis (Tunisia), Enyimba Football Club (Nigeria), Atlético Petróleos de Luanda (Angola), Simba Sports Club (Tanzania) and Al Ahly FC (Egypt) — and kicked off with teams paired in two-legged quarter-finals.

The competition is scheduled to expand to 24 teams in 2024, and was devised to highlight the quality of the game on the continent, driving foreign and domestic investment in African football as well as fan engagement worldwide by pitting Africa's biggest clubs against each other.

Speaking to media earlier in the day, the FIFA President had said: "[More] opportunities for clubs in Africa to compete at the top level, to have more competitive, passionate games, to be able to generate, as well, more revenues, more attention, and that’s exactly what the African Football League does, has done, and will do even more."

Since Mr Infantino was appointed FIFA President in 2016, the Forward programme has seen a seven-fold increase in funds to FIFA's 211 Member Associations (MA). Each MA, who can apply to Forward to help cover the costs of football-related development projects in their country, could receive up to USD 8 million over the course of the next four-year cycle of the programme, Forward 3.0.

The future of the game in South Africa was among the themes addressed by Mr Infantino, who attended Saturday's Soweto derby between Orlando Pirates FC and Kaizer Chiefs FC on the first of his two days in the country, when he and CAF President Patrice Motsepe met the President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, at the latter's official residence in Tshwane, and Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture, Zizi Kodwa.

"I had the pleasure of meeting the President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, ahead of the final match of the African Football League 2023, to discuss football development and the opportunities this special competition will provide to those with a football dream in South Africa and all of Africa," said the FIFA President, who presented President Ramaphosa with an official matchball from the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023™️ final, a competition where South Africa reached the knockout rounds for the first time in their history.

"Thank you very much to President Cyril Ramaphosa as well as to CAF President Patrice Motsepe and South Africa's Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture, Zizi Kodwa, for all your support so far and I look forward to continuing our work in building a more inclusive world through the power of football."