Florent Ibenge admits the Mamelodi Sundowns 2016 CAF Champions League triumph is a wound that still cuts deep to this day.
The Al Hilal head coach was in charge of AS Vita that season where they sailed through toward the second-round qualification after wins over Mafundzo (Tanzania) and Ferroviário Maputo (Mozambique) to set up a tie with Mamelodi Sundowns.
It saw them win with a 90th-minute goal in the first leg through Richard Mbombo in Kinshasa before winning the two on the away goals ruling after losing 2-1 at the Lucas Masterpieces Moripe stadium a week later.
Brimming with confidence and poised for the Group stages, it was announced a month later by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) that they were disqualified from the competition for fielding an ineligible player in their Preliminary round win in Zanzibar.
And the rest, as they say, is history – as Sundowns were reinstated into the competition and they won Group A ahead of Zamalek, Enyimba and ES Setif – before beating ZESCO United in the semi-finals and the White Knights in the two-legged encounters for their maiden continental crown under former head coach Pitso Mosimane.
“I guess you’re talking about how we were disqualified for the player? Of course, I mean just to knock Sundowns out means we had the quality,” he told iDiski Times when asked if that infamous administration fumble by Vita management still haunts him.
“We were so good that season, absolutely we could have won the Champions League. But you know, Sundowns, when they came back, mentally they changed and they were given the strength to win the competition.”
The 61-year-old won four Linafoot titles, the African Nations Championship (CHAN), the CAF Confederation Cup, but the Champions League still eludes his decorated CV to this day.
“It’s a wound… it will always be a wound. First of all, I consider myself as an educator, so I don’t like cheating,” Ibenge stated.
“We didn’t know about the player that was suspended, we played in Tanzania and won 5-0, we didn’t know. So it will always be a wound and yeah – it’s just the way it is.
“But it was so unfair, being qualified and then being disqualified because of not having information about the player.”
Ibenge has now accepted the mandate to try and win Africa’s elite club competition with a Sundanese giants side Al Hilal in a three-year project.