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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Improved second half performance helps Raja Casablanca to positive first leg result against Orlando Pirates

Two of the strongest teams remaining in the CAF Confederation Cup played to a 1-1 draw in Johannesburg as there was nothing to separate Orlando Pirates and Raja Casablanca. Vincent Pule provided the opening goal towards the end of the first half for Pirates before Raja rallied with a superb performance after the break, finding their equalizer through Congolese striker Ben Malango. It was a disappointing result in the end for the Buccaneers, who will need a positive result in Casablanca next week in order to advance.

The match was a tale of two halves with hosts Orlando Pirates coming out with an inspired gameplan. Raja goalkeeper and captain Anas Zniti’s experience was needed early on with a couple of early Pirates attacks necessitating the intervention of the Morocco national team member. Raja noticeably underperformed due to a combination of the South African side’s positive start and lackluster efforts from stars like Soufiane Rahimi.

In the 39th minute the breakthrough came when a long ball from Orlando Pirates’ end was inadvertently flicked on by a Raja defender, sending Pule in on goal where the forward made no mistake slotting his effort past Zniti. Their halftime lead was a just reward for positive play on both sides of the ball.

It was inevitable that favorites Raja would mount a comeback attempt in the second half and it was not long before Pirates were put on their heels. Only a couple of minutes into the second period a shot by Raja striker Malango was clearly blocked by Ntsikelelo Nyauza’s hand in the penalty area but the referee waived play on despite furious protests from the Moroccan team.

Malango had been wasteful with his touches prior to that point, but after the missed handball he and his Raja teammates were spurred on by the perceived injustice and found the important equalizer in the 60th minute. A long lobbed pass towards the edge of the Buccaneers’ penalty area was unconvincingly dealt with by Nyauza as the center-back could only head the ball into Malango while falling down, allowing Malango to collect and maneuver past Sam Bongani before striking low past Pirates keeper Wayne Sandilands.

Pirates were not nearly as threatening as they were in the first half with Namibian playmaker Deon Hotto struggling to find space to create opportunities for his team. The pressure only intensified as Raja made attack-minded substitutions that increased their advantage with Zakaria Habti and Noah Sadaoui in particular adding plenty in their cameos. Pirates prevented Raja from obtaining a second away goal but the result will be a disappointment to manager Josef Zinnbauer considering how well the hosts managed the game until conceding the equalizer.

Highlights of the match are below.