BY APESIN ADEMOLA.
Raja Casablanca go into the last match of CAF clubs 2018 season with high expectations to come out victorious and lift the title they last won in 2003, then known as CAF Cup.
The Moroccans have a 3-0 cushion achieved in the first leg in Casablanca a week ago
Reversing such a huge margin in the final is not common even as home teams deploy all tactics – fair and unfair – to overcome their visitors.
Three-time winners of the elite CAF Champions League, Raja understand how to hold their nerves in important fixtures. And their coach, Juan Carlos Garrido has refused to get carried away by the first leg result.
Shortly after beating Vita Club in Casablanca, Garrido told the media that his squad needed to concentrate on the second leg at Stade des Martyrs in Kinshasa.
“That match is going to be huge. Today (last Sunday), this match is over. As from tomorrow we have to start preparing for the return leg, which is the final. That match is definite.”
The Spaniard have a personal history in sight. He is on the verge of becoming the first ever coach to win this title with two clubs after his success with Egypt’s Al-Ahly four seasons ago.
Raja will be without striker Moussine Iajour who has been banned by CAF for three continental club matches over an incident at the end of last Sunday’s first leg fixture.
“Iajour was expelled at the end of the match for giving violent head shot to a player of AS Vita Club,” CAF statement reads.
But AS Vita coach Florent Ibenge is determined not to allow history repeat itself by cancelling the deficit and going ahead to win the club’s first continental trophy since 1973 when they were crowned African champions through the then African Cup of Champions Clubs (now CAF Champions League).
He believes that no two matches are the same, while admitting that the huge loss in Casablanca has made life complicated for this side.
“Even in training when a team leads by three goals to zero, the game is stopped because it is considered that the match is over. But we have seen in history scenarios that have redefined themselves in another way. Let’s hope and work to show another image better than the first leg.”
He may be banking on their performance in the semifinal when the Congolese club bashed Al-Masry SC of Egypt 4-0 in the second leg to land in the final by the same aggregate score.
Ibenge was in charge of Vita Club when they lost CAF Champions League final to Algeria’s ES Sétif four years ago.
Vita Club’s local rivals TP Mazembe won the last two editions of this competition. Will that inspire the Black Dolphins to achieve one of the greatest comebacks in the finals of CAF competitions to emulate their compatriots?
AS Vita Club (DR Congo) v Raja Casablanca (Morocco) (8pm)
(First leg Raja Casablanca 3-0)