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MOROCCO LOOKING TO CREEP BACK INTO THE AFRICAN FOOTBALL SCENE

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It was a night of joy for some and a night of sorrow for others as well. Tears rolled down the eyes of many because it was a night to remember; while for others a night to forget as the second leg of the CAF Champions League Final took center stage last weekend between Wydad Casablanca of Morocco and Al Ahly of Egypt in an all North African final.

Prior to the first leg of the final kick off, both teams squared off against each other in the group stages of the competition earlier in the year with the boys from Cairo defeating Wydad 2-0 in their first face off. Thanks to goals from Momen Zakaria and Oluwafemi Ajayi in the 24th and 79th minutes respectively.

The return leg in Morocco saw Wydad return the favour the host and came out winners with Fabrice Ondama getting the first goal in the 48th minute of the game and Walid El Karti coming off the bench to put the final nail on the coffin of the eight time champions in the 78th minute. Both teams later went on to qualify from the group with Wydad coming out group leaders with 12 points and Al Ahly finishing a point behind the Casablanca outfit.

Wydad came up against last year’s champions Mamelodi Sundowns in the quarter- finals but had to dispatch the South African side 3-2 on penalties after both teams were tied one all on aggregate after two legs.

On to the semi- finals they marched and the next opponent was fellow North African side USM Alger of Algeria with the Moroccans triumphing 3-1 on aggregate after a goalless draw in Algiers, setting up an epic showdown against Egyptian giants Al Ahly in the final who took Tunisian side, Etoile du Sahel to the cleaners 7-4 on aggregate in their semi-final fixture.

The first leg at the Cairo International Stadium got off to a flying start as Al Ahly took the lead as early as the third minute as midfielder Zakaria gave the home fans something to scream about as the stadium erupted in jubilation. But the lead was not to last and the jubilation was cut short as Wydad leveled the game through attacker Achraf Bencharki to give the Moroccans a vital away goal needed to get into the second leg in Casablanca. One all it ended in Egypt.

The second leg was just as interesting as the first as both sides went all out to finish the job early and lift the trophy. Chances were created but not converted as the first half ended in a stalemate with Wydad just needing the game to end goalless and they would be home and dry. But that was not to be the script as El Karti slotted in from close range in the 69th minute to give Wydad a 1-0 lead that night and a 2-1 lead on aggregate. Referee Bakary Gassama from The Gambia blew the final whistle and the fans at the Stade Mohamed V were all smiles, overwhelmed with tears of joy and screams as their team, Wydad Casablanca defeated Al Ahly, the Egyptian side tagged the “Real Madrid” of Africa to lift this year’s CAF Champions League.

A job well done by Wydad, who will now represent the continent at the FIFA Club World Cup next month in the United Arab Emirates; to compete with other club champions from different continents.

This feat achieved by the Moroccan side has actually put the nation back on the football map in Africa and with the national team heading into the weekend with a showdown against Cote d’Ivoire in their final World Cup Qualifier game in Abidjan. Needing just a draw to book their place in Russia, it will be all but confirmed that Morocco is out of the shadows and will once again be tagged as one of the heavyweights in African football. We will be watching with keen and focused attention as the World Cup Qualifiers come to an end this weekend.

 

Chinedu Victor.

vickychi24@gmail.com

vickychi24@yahoo.com

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