The African Champions League was again unsettled and undermined by controversy on Monday when Ghanaian club Berekum Chelsea denied being offered money by four-time winners 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 their 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.
"We wish to state categorically that this report is utterly false"
Berekum chief executive Nana Kwame Nketiah
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 it so the Congolese team could finish top of their group and avoid Group A winners and defending champions 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 they 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 they were 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 on 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 were 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.