Moroccan club Raja Casablanca ended a 15-year wait for an African trophy by winning the CAF Confederation Cup in the Democratic Republic of Congo Sunday despite a 3-1 second-leg loss to V Club.
Raja, who won the last edition of the CAF Cup in 2003, beat V Club 3-0 in the first leg in Casablanca last Sunday and triumphed 4-3 on aggregate in the two-leg title decider.
It was the sixth CAF title for the Moroccans, who have also won the Champions League three times and the Super Cup once.
Abdelilah Hafidi put Raja ahead after 21 minutes on a synthetic pitch saturated by pre-match rain at the 80,000-seat Stade des Martyrs in Kinshasa.
The goal left V Club, whose only CAF title came 45 years ago, needing to score five to win the second-tier African club competition.
Jean-Marc Makusu, who started after recovering from a first-leg injury, levelled on the night by slamming a free-kick high into the net during first-half stoppage time.
Raja appeared to be cruising toward overall victory until the Congolese scored twice within three minutes midway through the second half.
Substitute Mukoko Batezadio fired into the net after a goalmouth scramble on 71 minutes and Fabrice Ngoma converted a cross soon after to raise hopes of a sensational comeback.
But Raja stood firm and there were no further clearcut scoring chances for the Congolese, leaving them with an unwanted record of losing three of four CAF finals they reached.
Spain-born Raja handler Juan Carlos Garrido became the first coach to win the African equivalent of the UEFA Europa League with two clubs.
He guided Al Ahly of Egypt to a dramatic victory in the 2014 final with the decisive goal against Sewe San Pedro of the Ivory Coast coming after 96 minutes in Cairo.
Victory for Raja also confirmed the dominance of north African clubs in the Confederation Cup, which replaced the African Cup Winners Cup and CAF Cup competitions in 2004.
They are the fourth Moroccan club to lift the trophy after FAR Rabat (2005), FUS Rabat (2010) and Moghreb Fes (2011) and the 10th north African winners in 15 finals.
V Club, who won at home and drew away against Raja in the group stage, had hoped to emulate compatriots and arch domestic rivals TP Mazembe, winners of the 2016 and 2017 finals.
However, the odds were stacked against them as only Mouloudia Alger of Algeria had overcome a three-goal first-leg deficit in 108 previous home-and-away CAF club finals.
Raja will start defending the title on December 16 with a round-of-32 home fixture in the 2018/2019 edition against Silver Strikers of Malawi or Cercle Mberi Sportif of Gabon.
(Goal.com) South African Football's mother body has explained to Goal why hosting the Afcon is difficult, but they might reconsider with incentives
The South Africa Football Association (Safa) has responded to reports that they could be in line to host the upcoming 2019 Africa Cup of Nations.
On Friday, Caf confirmed its decision to strip Cameroon of hosting rights ahead of the showpiece event after it was deemed that they would not be ready in time for the event.
This immediately sent speculation into overdrive that Morocco, Egypt and South Africa could step in at the last minute to take over as hosts.
Nonetheless, Safa spokesperson Dominic Chimhavi has spoken to Goal about the possibility of hosting the event.
“We also seen those reports and don’t forget that the Safa president is also an executive member of Caf,” Chimhavi told Goal on Saturday.
“But as things stand, our position is that we need liaise with the minister, we need to liaise with Caf themselves, because the short space of time, the bidding process is going to be changed.
“So, we want to find out what are the bidding processes,” he added.
While Chimhavi admits that South Africa are in an ideal position to host the Afcon, he has revealed that Safa’s financial woes may prove to be a stumbling block.
So, as things stand are we interested in hosting the Africa Cup of Nations 2019,?" Chimhavi quizzed.
“With our financial situation no,” an honest Chimhavi revealed.
“But if Caf comes up with certain incentives to say we are going to look after everything and we just provide the venue, I think we can host,” he said.
“Our financial situation doesn’t allow us to host. But we also have to talk to the government, so at the moment nothing has been decided as yet,” Safa’s spokesperson stated.
“We will see what Caf comes with and we will also liaise with government to see if they are interested in bankrolling this project. But you know in recent times the government has been saying, we need to exercise the tightening of the belt,” he continued.
“We have the capacity. South Africa is the only country that can host the event tomorrow. We have the capacity to host a 24-team Africa Cup of Nations, but as I say, the financial unfitness might put to bed any attempt because we don’t have the money,” he concluded.
Cameroon has been stripped of the right to host the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations after serious delays with its preparations and in the midst of a violent separatist rebellion near two of the planned venues.
The country's status as hosts of AFCON has been in doubt for the last few months since the decision was made to increase the tournament from 16 to 24 teams.
The Confederation of African Football will now give a one month window to countries interested in hosting the tournament and official bids will be submitted and considered.
Morocco, who were unsuccessful in their bid for the 2026 Fifa World Cup, are most likely to replace Cameroon as hosts. South Africa, hosts of the 2010 World Cup, could also be a viable option for CAF.
CAF said in September that there was a 'significant delay' with the building of stadiums and related infrastructure but gave Cameroon a final chance by planning two more inspection visits in October.
One of those was to assess the security situation after an escalation in violence in the southwest and northwest of the country involving English-speaking separatists and government forces.
And the decision was taken in an extraodrinary meeting on Friday afternoon where CAF president Ahmed Ahmed faced the media to explain why the decision has been taken to put the tournament back on the market for official bids.
This will be the second time in recent memory that CAF has stripped a country of hosting rights of a continental tournament.
Kenya was declared unfit to host the 2018 Africa Nations Championships in January this year with Morocco stepping in as the replacement host.
By Morocco World News
Morocco's Atlas Lions climbed 7 places to 40th in the FIFA ranking for November, released on Thursday.
Morocco’s two latest games, against Cameroon and Tunisia, may have improved its position in the ranking.
With a total of 1,440 points, Morocco ranks 3rd in Africa behind Senegal (23rd worldwide) and Tunisia (26th worldwide). Nigeria came fourth in Africa and 44th in the world.
FIFA’s October ranking put the Atlas Lions in 47th globally and 3rd in Africa. Tunisia and Senegal switched the top two places.
Belgium, France, and Brazil top the global ranking for November.
Portugal and Argentina climbed one place each to be ranked 6th and 11th, respectively.
The North African Football Union (UNAF) wants the Confederation of African Football (CAF) to move the hosting of the 2019 African Cup of Nations from Cameroon to Morocco.
UNAF says Cameroon seems more than likely to withdraw, and the union is placing pressure on CAF to make sure that the first-ever, 24-team tournament is not held under difficult conditions or in half-finished stadiums. As a meeting of the CAF Executive Committee nears, where crucial decisions are expected, the region’s football union supports the “rescue mission” envisaged by Morocco.
According to Algerian papers, the Kingdom of Morocco wants to come to the rescue for the second time after the African Nations Championship was withdrawn from Kenya in 2018, and they can count on “the support of Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans and especially Algeria”.
Last week, Algerian media, including the daily Le Buteur, already wrote that the tournament will be held in Morocco, not in Cameroon, the country chosen by CAF to host next year.
“According to information in our possession, the AFCON 2019 will take place next June on Moroccan soil and not in Cameroon, because of the great delays in the construction and renovation of infrastructure,” reports Le Buteur in its Wednesday’s edition.
CAF’s President Ahmad had reportedly raised the possibility of holding the 2019 tournament in another country, if Cameroon is not able to finish the preparatory work in time.
This week BBC Sport will be profiling the five players on the shortlist for BBC African Footballer of the Year. Next up is Medhi Benatia, the Juventus and Morocco defender. Details of how to vote further down this page.
When Medhi Benatia retired from international football in March 2017, few could have predicted the year that would follow.
Low on both form and playing time at Juventus, it was a point of principle that prompted the defender's absence from Morocco.
"I am not a cheat," the 31-year-old told BBC Sport. "Someone who is not playing at their club cannot be in shape to represent his national team."
While such a stance may be rare, it's even rarer when the player in question happens to be the national captain.
"The national team is about calling up the best players at the time," the centre-back said.
"I cannot say that because I am called Medhi Benatia and have a career behind me that I'm going to play 90 minutes when I lack rhythm. This is not beneficial for me, my coach or my team."
As he freely admitted in his resignation statement, he was not getting much playing time at Juve, where the famed three of Andrea Barzagli, Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini stood in his way.
Loathe to deny another Moroccan a chance when he was not as "competitive as he wished", Benatia said he would return when he was playing regularly for his club.
"Medhi is more than one player in my squad because I have a lot of respect for him," Morocco coach Herve Renard tells BBC Sport.
"There is one particular thing about Medhi - whether you like him or not, he is always straight. He thinks he has to tell you. I like a man like that. He's very honest and this is the most important."
In September 2017, having played far more regularly for Juventus, Benatia was back for his country.
Two months later came one of his greatest triumphs as Morocco reached their first World Cup since 1998 without conceding a goal in a group containing 2015 African champions Ivory Coast, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's Gabon and Mali.
In addition, they sealed qualification when winning 2-0 in Ivory Coast - with captain Benatia scoring the all-important second goal.
"He is a real leader both on and off the pitch because of his experience," says Frenchman Renard.
"When you are playing at this level, it is because you are a big competitor - especially if you're a defender. He's a very intelligent player, able to anticipate and technically very good.
"He is also passionate about football, which is very important for a coach. Before a game, he is always asking about the profile of the striker. He is very curious, very professional."
Yet it wasn't always thus.
Expelled from Clairefontaine
The national training centre of Clairefontaine in France is understandably famous around the world - having produced Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka and Kylian Mbappe, among others, while helping deliver two World Cup wins since it opened in 1988.
Very few who are selected for the elite academy fail to last the course and even fewer go on to make it as a professional.
But Benatia is one of those - having struggled with its academic rigour.
"We were supposed to do three years, but I only did two," he admitted. "At the time, I had big troubles in the school. I did not want to do any school work, I also had some behavioural problems. I was - in inverted commas - a complete idiot."
His turbulence in the classroom led to his expulsion from Clairefontaine and while he has no issue with the decision - calling it "fair" - he also remembers it being "like an electric shock".
"Honestly, it was bizarre to go home and see my mother and father who were really very angry with me," recalls a man born near Paris to a Moroccan dad and an Algerian mum.
"They said: 'You have wasted a great opportunity for you to do something with your life so today you must accept the consequences.' They were really very sad for me.
"I realised then I was on the way to losing everything, and that my dream of being a footballer might slip away if I continued along that path. It was because of that I changed. I had to redeem myself."
For, despite numerous challenges during his career - "it would take quite a lot of time to run through the list", Benatia rebounded so hard he made it to the very top.
His first break after Clairefontaine was when offered youth terms at Guingamp, where he spent a year before signing for Marseille.
Once again, what appeared a dream move turned into a nightmare.
"They put so many obstacles in my way," he said. "They did everything so that I could not play with the professional group, which was unfair because the youth coaches were all unanimous in saying I deserved to.
"But there were people in higher positions who thought differently. That was a big regret because Marseille was a very important club for me. I had it deep in my heart to wear the jersey, but they blocked me."
He never played for Marseille (not even when a strike meant the club fielded a reserve side at PSG in 2006), and his mettle was further tested when a torn knee ligament suffered during a loan spell at Lorient kept the then 20-year-old out for a year.
"All those things forged my character and gave me a real fury to succeed, a hunger to reach my goals and, thanks to God, that is what happened. I have done more perhaps than I imagined."
When Benatia left Marseille in 2008, he dropped down to Clermont Foot in the French second division - rebuilding his career so successfully that Udinese came calling in 2010.
His three-year spell there was hugely successful as the Italians finished fourth, third and fifth while recording their three highest-ever Serie A points tallies. They have not qualified for the Champions League nor finished higher than 13th since Benatia left in 2013.
The next stop was Roma, where he duly helped another side achieve a then-record points total, as they finished second, and a best-ever clean sheets record (21).
Keen to stay, Benatia was sold instead to Pep Guardiola's Bayern Munich, where his run of four consecutive league titles began - the first two coming with the Germans, the second pair with Juventus.
His brief Morocco retirement came during his first season in Turin, having moved there in 2016 (initially on loan).
Eighteen months on, Benatia has not just added two more league titles but two Italian Cups - having scored twice in a 4-0 thumping of Milan in May's final - as well as a Champions League runners-up medal.
With a maiden World Cup appearance as well, it is a remarkable turnaround for a player for whom adversity has been a familiar foe.
"It's true that it's been a route full of obstacles, twists and turns with lots of tests," he explained.
"Some take a motorway and always drive straight while others get lost along the way, take the wrong path and come back - but the most important is to reach your destination. I managed to arrive where I am dreamed of being, so I am happy and proud about that."
But there is one more dream to fulfil - helping the country he did not want to "deceive" last year win only its second Africa Cup of Nations title (and first since 1976).
"If I had the chance to win this cup, this would be a unique moment engraved in our minds," he said.
"Just speaking about it gives me goosebumps. It sounds so incredible already but we're not there yet. If we don't win with a coach like [two-time winner] Herve Renard, we will never win, so we have to believe - and do everything to win it."
(BBC Sport) Morocco's Raja Casablanca beat AS Vita Club of the Democratic Republic of Congo 3-0 on Sunday in the first leg of the 2018 African Confederation Cup final.
In front of 45,000 fans, including Morocco's head coach Herve Renard, Raja made the most of home advantage to secure a big lead ahead of the second leg.
The result also keeps Raja coach Juan Carlos Garrido on track to becoming the first coach to win the African Confederation Cup with two clubs.
The Spaniard also guided Al Ahly of Egypt to success in the second-tier African club competition four years ago.
Soufiane Rahimi scored twice for Raja Casablanca, his first goal coming two minutes after the break, as he pounced on a back-heel from Mahmoud Benhalib to poke the ball home.
There was then a brief delay to play to allow smoke from a flare to clear, and when they resumed, Raja added to the score.
Rahimi's second came after 61 minutes, a strong shot from outside the area giving the hosts a 2-0 lead.
Things got worse for the visitors when Yannick Bangala Litombo gave away a penalty two minutes later and was sent off for two yellow cards.
Mahmoud Benhalib put the spot-kick away to make it 3-0 to Raja and become the top-scorer in the competition this season with 12 goals.
Even with 10-men, Vita Club pushed forward, refusing to make it easy for the hosts.
At the final whistle, there were mass celebrations on the pitch from the Raja players as Vita Club's contingent expressed their unhappiness to the referee.
The result leaves AS Vita Club with a big challenge when they host the second leg in Kinshasa on Sunday 2 December.