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African Football League Preview: Wydad AC

The inaugural edition of the African Football League (AFL) continues with its quarterfinal stage over the weekend with eight of the continent’s top clubs fighting it out for a major trophy. Pan-Africa Football is previewing each participant at the competition and next up below is more on the 2021-22 CAF Champions League winners, Wydad AC of Morocco:

Background

The most successful club in the history of Moroccan football, Wydad claimed the title of best club in Africa during the 2021-22 season when they captured the CAF Champions League as well as Morocco’s top division Botola Pro under current Morocco national team Walid Regragui. The Casablanca giants have won a record twenty-two Botola Pro titles and also three African club titles through victories in the Champions League.

Since the departure of Regragui the team struggled during the 2022-23 season and failed to retain their domestic and continental trophies. However the acquisition of several highly regarded players and a decent start to the current Botola Pro season is giving hope that Wydad can return to the top of Moroccan football while making a deep run in African club competitions including the AFL.

Schedule

Quarterfinals

1st Leg- @ Enyimba on October 22 in Uyo, Nigeria

2nd Leg- vs Enyimba on October 25 in Casablanca

Notable Arrivals and Departures

Arrivals

FW Hamdou Elhouni (LBY)- Transfer from Espérance ST (TUN)

DF Jamal Harkass (MAR)- Transfer from Raja CA (MAR)

MF Zakaria Draoui (DZA)- Transfer from CR Belouizdad (DZA)

FW Saifeddine Bouhra (MAR)- Transfer from Chabab Mohammédia (MAR)

FW Montasser Lahtimi (MAR)- Loan from Trabzonspor (TUR)

DF/MF Hamza Regragui (MAR)- Transfer from RS Berkane (MAR)

FW Charki El Bahri (MAR)- Transfer from RS Berkane (MAR)

DF Ilyes Chetti (DZA)- Transfer from Amiens (FRA)

MF Oussama Mahrous (MAR)- Transfer from Olympique Safi (MAR)

GK Mehdi Maftah (MAR)- Transfer from Mouloudia Oujda (MAR)

DF Oussama Falouh (MAR)- Transfer from Amiens (FRA)

FW Soufyan Ahannach (MAR)- Transfer from Al-Arabi (KSA)

Departures

GK Ahmed Reda Tagnouti (MAR)- Transfer to Maghreb Fez (MAR)

DF Houcine Benayada (DZA)- Transfer to CR Belouizdad (DZA)

FW Muaid Ellafi (LBY)- Transfer to Al-Ahli Tripoli (LBY)

FW Hamid Ahadad (MAR)- Transfer to FUS Rabat (MAR)

MF Reda Jaadi (MAR)- Transfer to IR Tanger (MAR)

MF Jalal Daoudi (MAR)- Transfer to IR Tanger (MAR)

FW Badie Aouk (MAR)- Transfer to Union Touarga (MAR)

MF Aymane El Hassouni (MAR)- Transfer to Muaither (QAT)

DF Hamza Ait Allal (MAR)- Transfer to Renaissance Zemamra (MAR)

Head Coach- Adil Ramzi

An excellent technical midfielder and attacker during his playing days who still looks like he can contribute on the pitch, the 46-year-old native of Marrakech spent over ten years playing in European club football mainly in The Netherlands. Ramzi, also a member of the Morocco national team who represented his nation at the 2000 and 2002 editions of the Africa Cup of Nations, takes on a massive task with Wydad for his first major head coaching job where there will be no sympathy if his team fails to live up to expectations.

Ramzi remained in The Netherlands to begin his coaching career, spending over three years as an assistant at top Dutch club PSV Eindhoven where he previously played and gained his first head coaching experience with the club’s reserve team. He will utilize either a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation when Wydad compete in the AFL.

Goalkeeping

It seemed like Ahmed Reda Tagnouti was set for a long tenure as the number one goalkeeper at Wydad but now it is Youssef El Motie (pictured above). After Tagnouti became injured last season, El Motie stepped in with strong performances and snatched the job from the Morocco national team third goalkeeper and is now the undisputed choice.

With Tagnouti now off to another club in Moroccan football, former Chabab Mohammédia custodian El Motie has the sharp reflexes and confidence needed to succeed at a club that does not accept losing. The backup for El Motie will be new signing Mehdi Maftah who was acquired from Mouloudia Oujda.

Defense

After years as a reliable left back for Wydad, Yahya Attiyat Allah was introduced to the world with strong performances for Morocco at the 2022 FIFA World Cup

Wydad maintains a strong defense in front of El Motie with power and muscle in the center and technique at the fullback positions. Left back and captain Yahya Attiyat Allah was highly involved in Morocco’s dream run to the semifinals of the 2022 FIFA World Cup and gives the attackers of Wydad excellent service from the flank. Ayoub El Amloud is a similar player on the right flank who is not afraid to venture forward and contribute to the attack. In addition, Algeria national team player Ilyes Chetti has been brought in from French football to add further depth at fullback.

Centrally, veteran Amine Farhane is joined by another experienced player, Jamal Harkass, a towering defender acquired after he left rivals Raja CA. Amine Aboulfath is not as physically imposing but is a versatile option who is ready to step in whenever needed. Congolese defender Arsène Zola was a regular contributor last season but is not featuring since rumors arrived about a move to Middle Eastern football. The transfer did not happen so it will be interesting to see if Zola plays in the AFL.

Midfield

Like Attiyat Allah, Yahya Jabrane was also used by Morocco at the 2022 FIFA World Cup and provides leadership in his deep-lying midfield role for WAC

Veteran defensive midfielder Yahya Jabrane is the anchor of the Wydad team with his experience, fierce spirit and expertise at taking penalty kicks. Now Jabrane has a formidable partner with the arrival of Algerian midfielder Zakaria Draoui from CR Belouizdad. Draoui provides a significant upgrade for Wydad and is already a good fit having played every minute of their league campaign so far.

A variety of capable options are available in the attacking midfield. Libya national team winger Hamdou Elhouni arrived from Tunisia’s Espérance ST and Saifeddine Bouhra remains with Wydad after his loan was made permanent from Chabab Mohammédia. New signings Montasser Lahtimi and Soufyan Ahannach join former Zamalek player Mohammed Ounajem and Wydad youth product Abdallah Haimoud as attacking midfielders who are capable of contributing.

Forwards

With Senegalese striker Bouly Junior Sambou injured, the goal scoring responsibility falls on Charki El Bahri following his acquisition from RS Berkane

Senegalese striker Bouly Junior Sambou has been the talisman up top for Wydad after leading the club in goals last season but is an injury doubt for the first leg of Wydad’s quarterfinal duel with Enyimba. Experienced goal scorer Charki El Bahri was acquired from fellow Moroccan club RS Berkane and has the ability to be more than an adequate replacement. The giant striker has four goals in six league matches so far this season and scored against Wydad in the 2022 CAF Super Cup final in a victory for Berkane after helping the club win the 2021-22 CAF Confederation Cup.

Prognosis

With an experienced defense and midfield, Wydad will always be a difficult team to score against and should help the club find their way past Nigeria’s Enyimba in the quarterfinals. The opportunity is there to reach the final but at this point the attack of Wydad needs to prove itself before they can be considered favorites to capture the AFL. Wydad are certainly the most capable team on their half of the draw and will be eager for a rematch of last season’s CAF Champions League final when they fell to Egypt’s Al Ahly.

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