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CAF Confederation Cup

Raja Casablanca reaffirm Moroccan dominance vs. AS Vita Club

15:21 WAT 03/12/2018
Raja Casablanca
It looked like Kinshasa was going to witness a unbelievable sporting spectacle, but the Green Eagles held their nerve to win the cup


Having sealed a 3-0 first-leg win in Morocco, Raja Casablanca will have been fairly relaxed ahead of the return leg of the 2018 Caf Confderation Cup final against AS Vita.

For the Congolese outfit, by contrast, only a remarkable comeback akin to what Esperance achieved against Al-Ahly in the recent Champions League final would have been enough to salvage the competition.

It was a packed crowd at the Stade des Martyrs de la Pentecote in Kinshasa, and they did witness a stirring performance as the Black Dolphins won 3-1 on the night but still lost 4-3 on aggregate.

The two sides came into the game with suspended players from the first leg in Yannick Bangala Litombo – who was cautioned in either half – and Mouhcine Iajour, for head-butting a player in the dying minutes of the previous match.

Vita had a couple of fine attacking moves early on that were thwarted by a resolute Raja backline, but against the run of play, the Green Eagles broke the deadlock in the 21st minute thanks to Abdelilah Hafidi after a defensive error from the Congolese.

With an away goal, Florent Ibenge’s side now needed five to win, and it was clear that Vita Club needed something approaching a miracle to progress.

The 1973 Champions League winners had two penalty calls waved away, but didn't truly play like they really wanted to make something happen, which must have been disappointing for the massive home support that were, by this point, soaked in rain.

For Raja, they have always looked comfortable in all their away games in the knockout round, which probably explains why they got big results against CARA Brazzaville and Enyimba in the quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively.

Things began to turn around for Vita as their top marksman Jean-Marc Makusu – who went off injured after 24 minutes in the first leg – sent a rasping free kick beyond the reach of Raja goalie Anas Zniti on the stroke of half-time for his 11th goal in this year’s Confederation Cup.

Raja maintained a defensive shape in the second half, but Les Dauphins Noirs took the lead on the night through substitute Mukoko Batezadio, who fired a bullet home in the 71st minute before Fabrice Ngoma made it 3-1 three minutes later.

The 80,000 Stade des Martyrs de la Pentecote crowd suddenly came alive and Raja were simply holding on for their lives at this point.

Things started getting dicey between the two teams in the closing stages, but he damage wasn't more than that and the 4-3 aggregate win ensured the Moroccans claimed their first continental title since 2003. It was also Garrido’s second Confederation Cup triumph, having achieved gold with Egyptian heavyweights Al-Ahly in 2014.

AS Vita did give Raja Casablanca a scare and we could have been talking of the greatest comeback in African football had they mantained their momentum, as a four-goal lead has never been overturned.

The key here was the away goal the Green Eagles scored early on. Had they not done so, we could have discussing a very special evening now.

It is to this end that Florent Ibenge’s men have themselves to blame.

Their failure to get an away goal in Casablanca was their greatest undoing because if they did, things could have swung in their favour in Kinshasa, and the wait for a first continental title in 45 years would have been over.

However, the Moroccans have been a class apart this year since starting their campaign from the final qualification playoff round, with no side able to match their tactical brilliance and motivation.

With Garrido’s biggest career triumph coming on African soil again, the Spaniard is comfortably among the hottest properties on the continent.

Having not spent more than two years at any professional club he’s managed, will the former Real Betis boss stay much longer in Casablanca, or will he set his sights elsewhere?

Raja Casablanca’s triumph continues to set the trend of Morocco’s re-emergence as an African powerhouse.

From Wydad Casablanca’s victory in the 2017 Caf Champions League to the Atlas Lions’ triumph in the 2018 African Nations Championship on home soil, not forgetting their strong showing at the World Cup, the North Africans appear to be thriving at every level of the game right now.

Moroccan power rules Africa once again, and it's rightly deserved.