Thursday 22 March 2018

Wydad set to stretch Moroccan winning run as VAR debuts

Wydad set to stretch Moroccan winning run as VAR debuts
(AFP 02/23/18)

Wydad Casablanca should continue a run of Moroccan successes Saturday by lifting the CAF Super Cup, the first match in Africa to use the video assistant referee (VAR) system.

The Casablanca club won the CAF Champions League last November, the same month that the national team qualified for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

Morocco then hosted and won the African Nations Championship for home-based footballers this month by thrashing Nigeria 4-0 in the final.

Now it the turn of Wydad again to try and bring more glory to the kingdom, which has been ranked among the top 10 African football nations for decades.

They face TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo in the one-off Super Cup match, an annual showdown between the CAF Champions League and CAF Confederation Cup title-holders.

In 25 previous match-ups, 22 have been won by the African champions, and the reason is not hard to find.

Neutral venues were used for three seasons before being scrapped because of poor crowd support and CAF gave the Champions League winners home advantage rather than adopt a two-leg approach.

Crowds swelled, with several matches attracting 80,000 spectators, but visiting teams struggled with only two succeeding.

Most matches have been close encounters, though, with penalty shootouts deciding eight while nine others were settled by one-goal margins.

The Casablanca match offers veteran Wydad coach Faouzi Benzarti, a Tunisian, the chance to become the outright second most successful coach in CAF club competitions.

Portuguese Manuel Jose leads the pack with eight titles during two spells at Al Ahly of Egypt followed by Benzarti, Egyptian Mahmoud el Gohary and Argentine Oscar Fullone with four.

Benzarti, whose previous CAF successes came at Tunisian clubs Esperance and Etoile Sahel, was a recent appointment after poor domestic form cost Champions League-winning coach Hussein Amoutta his job.

Wydad will also show at least one change in personnel from the team that defeated Ahly to win the Champions League with attacker Achraf Bencharki having moved to Saudi Arabia.

Bencharki and winger Mohamed Ounnajem were included the original shortlist for the 2017 Africa-based Footballer of the Year award.

A couple of Mazembe stars, Ivorian goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo and striker Ben Malango, also made the list.

VAR was supposed to debut in Africa last month during the Nations Championship, but trial runs were held instead.

The system involves off-field officials assisting referees with key decisions, including awarding goals and penalties and ruling on offsides, red cards and mistaken identities.

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