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Saturday, December 2, 2023

Casablanca Derby: Wydad move one step closer to Botola Pro title with close victory over Raja

Heading into Morocco’s most heated rivalry match, the Casablanca Derby between Raja and Wydad, it was necessary for the Green Eagles of Raja to win in order to cut into Wydad’s six-point lead at the top of the Botola Pro. However, Wydad withstood an excellent start from Raja to the second half and snuck a 70th minute winner through substitute Zouheir El Moutaraji, winning 1-2 and making the title theirs to lose with only five matches left to play. Now The Reds are nine points ahead and it will take some collapse for Wydad to not take the title back from last year’s winners Raja.

Raja came out a bit sluggish and Wydad’s early intensity created opportunities and eventually the opening goal within 15 minutes. After sustained pressure that kept the ball in Raja’s end, a 15th minute corner kick from winger Mohammed Ounajem found a wide open Ayoub El Amloud at the far post on the edge of the six-yard box. With terrible marking by RCA, El Amloud had all day to lineup his header and delivered a hard header low that bounced between Raja keeper Anas Zniti and a defender marking the far post.

Wydad keeper Ahmed Reda Tagnouti was not overly challenged by a Raja side that attempted to respond by halftime, dealing well with a couple of tame efforts. It appeared that a poor start for Raja was going to turn into disaster in the 41st minute when Ounajem turned creator again for Wydad, sending an excellent through ball to find Muaid Ellafi. Before the Libyan could get to the ball he was dragged down by Oussama Soukhane and the referee pointed to the spot for a penalty kick. However, Wydad leading scorer Ayoub El Kaabi blasted his spot kick off the crossbar and the ball bounced clear.

Facing a 1-0 deficit at the half, Raja came out with the urgency required to get back into the match against their rivals. The opening 15 minutes after the break saw the Green Eagles pepper the Wydad goal and they got their chance to equalize in the 55th minute when WAC midfielder Aymane El Hassouni committed a handball while attempting to head a ball clear from his penalty area. Unlike El Kaabi for WAC, Raja star Soufiane Rahimi made no mistake slotting his penalty kick home to equalize.

It appeared Raja might push on with their attack and win the match, but Wydad showed resiliency and manager Faouzi Benzarti made an inspired substitution by introducing attacker El Moutaraji. The winger had a brilliant chance only a few minutes after coming on but Raja keeper Zniti did brilliantly to deny from close range. The 70th minute brought the winner for Wydad when El Moutaraji received the ball in the midfield and did well to turn and run at the Raja defense, combining with El Kaabi before blasting at Zniti. The Raja keeper saved but could only bat the ball right back to El Moutaraji, who quickly stuck the rebound home before Zniti could react.

The three points all but secures Wydad’s title at this point. Check out the highlights below.

Andrew Olsson