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CAF Confederation Cup 2019-20 Semi-final Preview: RS Berkane (MAR) vs Hassania Agadir (MAR)

CAF continues the week of showcasing its continental competitions with Moroccan clubs RS Berkane and Hassania Agadir featuring in the first semi-final in the CAF Confederation Cup. As opposed to the Champions League, the semi-finals in the Confederation Cup will feature a single elimination match. There are questions about if the match will go on, as Hassania Agadir has seven players who have tested positive for Covid-19 and have filed an appeal to have the match once again postponed. Pan-Africa takes a look at how the match will look if it goes as scheduled:

RS Berkane

Left-back Mohamed Aziz is RS Berkane’s captain and leading goalscorer this season.

Path to the Semi-Finals

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Expected formation and team profile

RS Berkane’s reputation continues to rise in Moroccan and now African football. Coming from one of Morocco’s smaller cities, the club qualified for this and the last edition of the CAF Confederation Cup by winning the 2018 Moroccan Throne Cup. Berkane pulled off an outstanding run in last year’s tournament, losing to Zamalek in the finals on penalty kicks. Qualifying for continental competition the last two seasons has culminated in league success this season, with Tarik Sektioui’s squad in contention for the Botola title until the final day, settling for third place and qualification for a third consecutive Confederation Cup. Through smart maneuvering in the transfer market, Berkane looks positioned to continue being a factor in Moroccan and African football.

A fortress of a defense has been Berkane’s trademark this season. The Oranges only allowed 23 goals in 30 Botola matches this season, and the defensive line has remained stable and consistent throughout the season. Burkina Faso international Issoufou Dayo has been with the club for over five years and emerged as a valuable defensive leader and physical defender. The 23-year-old Ismail Mokadem developed into a starter over the course of last season and the Confederation Cup run last year. Veteran Mohamed Aziz is a technical left full-back who can provide service from the wing to complement his leadership.

Attack has been a bit more inconsistent for the club, but the squad has been reinforced during the season. Experienced forward Mouhssine Iajour and attacking midfielder Zakaria Hadraf arrived from Saudi club Damac to boost Berkane’s goalscoring capabilities. Iajour has an impressive record in the CAF Confederation Cup, scoring 12 goals in 25 matches. Hamdi Laachir is another veteran forward who likes to drift out wide and use his speed and dribbling to stretch defenses. Mauritanian international Adama Ba and Burkinabe Alain Traore have been inconsistent and struggled to maintain regular starting selections but may have an impact at some point.

Hassania Agadir

Leading scorer Karim El Berkaoui is looking to make one last run with HUSA before leaving for Al-Raed in Saudi Arabia.

Path to the Semi-Finals

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Expected formation and team profile

Hassania Agadir has done well to make it to this stage, but the odds are heavily stacked against them to go any further. Ever since current Wydad manager Miguel Angel Gamoudi left the club in late 2019, the club has struggled to replicate the form that took them to consecutive third place finishes in the Botola the last two seasons, sliding down to mid-table. Manager Mustapha Ouchrif has not only had to deal with a team that is in transition, but Covid-19 has also impacted the team adversely. Seven players are confirmed to be missing the semi-final first leg due to positive tests, including defensive regulars Yassine Rami and Jamal Ech-Chamakh. The club has lobbied to CAF to have the tie postponed yet again, but if a decision comes in their favor, it will be at the last minute.

Despite the notable absences, HUSA still possesses a very functional back line that can keep the tie close in front of veteran goalkeeper Abderrahmane El Houassli. Abdelkrim Baadi is a Moroccan international who is one of the Botola’s best young left-backs, and Senegalese right-back Bakare Mané has earned a regular starting role after signing from Generation Foot. Soufiane Bouftini is solid in the air and a good passer from his center-back position. Bouftini’s partner in the absence of Rami is difficult to predict but will likely be one of HUSA’s deep-lying central midfielders or a backup center-back like Ennaama El Bellali.

The midfield will determine if Hassania Agadir can hang around against Berkane. Imad Kimaoui and Mehdi Oubila bring incisive passing and valuable roles in helping HUSA win the possession battle. Either Kimaoui or Oubila may be asked to play at center-back, in which case there is depth to cover. In fact, the team may have their midfield organized in a flat five in order to keep things congested. The attack has been notably diminished this season, but HUSA have a class forward in Karim El Berkaoui who has provided the lion’s share of the team’s goals and will be moving on to Saudi football after the tournament. 23-year-old winger Youssef El Fahli has graduated to being a regular contributor and will be called upon to provide playmaking ability through his shifty dribbling. Hassania Agadir has limited attacking capabilities but knows how to limit the attack of their opponents and have a player in El Berkaoui who can strike at the necessary time.

Prediction

All of the circumstances favor RS Berkane in this matchup in addition to their strong form. Hassania Agadir’s season has been underwhelming, and the adverse effects of Covid-19 on their squad only increases the odds against them. Berkane should take care of business and make it to their second consecutive CAF Confederation Cup final.

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