Raja’s Fans Illuminate Club World Cup
Harare ‑ When Africa hosted its maiden World Cup three years ago, FIFA President, Sepp Blatter, described it as a “special” tournament.
And, as the continent hosts its first Club World Cup in Morocco, the colourful fans of Raja Casablanca are turning it into a very special tourney.
Just like at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, hosted by Africa for the first time, the continent might not produce a winner at this Club World Club. But, there has been more at stake for the continent than just producing a team that can go one step better than TP Mazembe, who lost in the final three years ago, and become world champions.
The first two days of the competition brought about 70 000 fans to the newly-built Adrar Stadium, in the resort town of Agadir in Morocco, and with hosts Raja Casablanca having booked a place in the semi-finals, more fans were expected to come and watch the remainder of the tournament.
Morocco tried, and failed, to host the 2010 World Cup, losing to eventual hosts South Africa, despite their bid enjoying the private backing of the CAF executive leadership.
The Moroccans then watched, from a distance, as the South Africans delivered an excellent World Cup that ended with Spain being crowned champions and Blatter giving the Rainbow Nation his vote of confidence for being good hosts.
“Every World Cup has its own history and its own culture,” Blatter said in his review of the first World Cup on African soil.
“It was a World Cup in a new continent with new culture and, therefore, it must be analysed on different levels.
“If you look at the enthusiasm in South Africa and the TV audiences around the world then it was a special World Cup.
“It was a very attractive World Cup and for me it was also a very emotional World Cup.”
The arrival of the FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco, though not as big a tournament as the FIFA World Cup, must have given the hosts a chance to show the globe what they, too, like the South Africans, can be good hosts of a major football tournament.
Two years from now, Morocco will host the 2015 CAF Nations Cup and, if the life that the world has been seeing in the stands of the country’s stadiums at this FIFA Club World Cup, then Africa’s biggest football festival could produce quite a spectacle in the stands.
The unexpected success of Raja Casablanca, who qualified for the FIFA Club World Cup as hosts, has helped and there were 34 875 delirious fans to cheer their cause when they took on Auckland City of New Zealand in the play-off match for a place in the quarter-finals at the Adrar Stadium on December 11.
The Moroccans repaid the fans for their faith with a spectacular 2-1 win, courtesy of goals from Mouhssine Iajour and Abdelilah Hafidi, who scored a last-gasp winner to take them into the last eight and a date against seasoned Mexicans Monterrey, the champions of Central and North America.
Three days after their sensational win over Auckland City, Raja Casablanca returned to the Adrar Stadium for their duel against Monterrey and 34 579 fans packed the stadium for the double-header match that also featured African champions Al Ahly and Asian champions Guangzhou Evergrande.
While Al Ahly were shock losers, beaten 0-2 by the Chinese side, which brought the curtain down on the illustrious career of midfielder, Mohamed Aboutreika, one of the greatest footballers to emerge out of the continent, Raja Casablanca kept the African interests alive with a dramatic 2-1 extra-time win over the fancied Mexicans.
Midfielder Chemseddine Chtibi, on the occasion of his 31st birthday, put Raja ahead and Ivorian international, Kouko Guehi then headed home a winner five minutes into the first period of extra-time, to push Raja Casablanca into the semi-finals.
The last time Raja Casablanca had played in the FIFA Club World Cup in 2000, they had lost all their games but, at home with the fans cheering their cause, the Moroccan club were sensational in their first two games and, in the quarter-finals, they beat a Monterrey team that had been to the last three World Club Cup tournaments.
Even world football governing body, FIFA, conceded that the fans were a key factor in Raja Casablanca’s success story in the first two games.
“In 2000, Raja Casablanca took part in the FIFA Club World Cup and lost all three of their matches,” FIFA said on their official website.
“This time around, the Moroccan outfit’s record is played two, won two, and both victories have been heavily indebted to the team’s boisterous 12th man.
“These supporters have packed out the Agadir Stadium and made an almighty racket for each of Raja’s successes thus far.
“The result is that a team languishing in mid-table in the Moroccan top flight, without a win in their three matches before the Club World Cup, are now looking forward to a last-four duel with South American champions Atletico Mineiro.
“And while a third straight victory is far from assured, Raja’s players are at least guaranteed of the most raucous of support.”
The tournament, though, is likely to be remembered as the last tourney that the great Aboutreika, who was playing in his 10th FIFA Club World Cup, played in a career that, in terms of success stories, is unlikely to be matched by anyone plying his talent on the continent.
Mohamed Aboutreika’s Career in Numbers:
· 10 – The number of FIFA Club World Cup appearances, a tournament record, which he has made.
· 5 – The number of African club champions won with Al Ahly in 2005, 2006, 2008, 2012 and 2013.
· 38 – The number of goals scored for the Pharaohs of Egypt in 100 appearances for his nation.
· 15 – The number of goals he has scored in the FIFA World Cup qualifiers, which is a record.
· 32 – The number of goals he has scored for Al Ahly in the African inter-club competitions.
· 4 – The number of goals he has scored in the FIFA Club World Cup, a record he shares with Lionel Messi and Denilson of Brazil.