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Africa’s greatest club sides of all

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Goal, in collaboration with African Football HQ, remember the greatest club sides in the continent’s sporting history

Guest Feature | Lotfi Wada

Goal in collaboration with African Football HQ , are delighted to present the latest instalment of our series celebrating the greatest club sides in the history of the continent’s game.

In this feature, we present the great Raja Casablanca side of the turn of the century, who won the last Caf Champions League of the century and reached seven African finals in seven years.

Follow the team at African Football HQ for some of the finest news and stats related to the continental game.

14th of December 1997, Raja Casablanca are back on the African throne after beating Obuasi Goldfields courtesy of an intense penalty shootout.

The side was a perfect blend, brilliantly led by the commander Vahid Halilhodzic.

It included academy products like Talal El Karkouri, Mustapha Moustawdaa and players from Olympique Casablanca, which had merged with the Green Eagles in 1995, including Abdullatif Jrindou and Jamal Sellami enabled Raja Casablanca to become the first winners of the Caf Champions League in its new format.

They also allowed the Green Eagles to take part in and win emphatically the last edition of the now-defunct Afro-Asian Cup.

1998 saw Raja lose the continental Super Cup at the hands of Etoile du Sahel, and their Champions League title defence ended in the group stages.

Entering the 1999 edition courtesy of their brutal domination of the Moroccan league and as freshly crowned Afro-Asian champions courtesy of a 2-0 win over Pohang Steelers, Raja qualified for the group stages after a long shootout under the sun of Bamako.

A first-placed finish in their group saw Oscar Fullone’s men qualify for the final to lock horns with the tournament’s arch-favourites at that time: Esperance.

The first leg at the Pere Jego stadium ended goalless, although the guests dominated.

In a packed El Menzah stadium, and during those cherished days of Ramadan football, Fullone’s troops found themselves up against it.

Hostilities started in the worst way possible for L’Khadra as the home side was awarded a penalty. To add salt to their wounds, captain Jrindou was shown a red card. 

Raja had to play more than an hour with 10 players, although a penalty beautifully saved by the future hero of this cold Ramadan afternoon, Mustafa Chadli, was a foretaste to what was waiting for the hosts at the end of the game.

Failing to break Raja down, and denied by Chadli on various occasions, Esperance’s chance to win the game in regular time was gone, and penalties were required to decide the last African champions of the century.

Raja got what they wanted by holding the trembling home team to the shootout, as pressure began to tell.

Leading 4-3 after taking all of their penalties, the Green Eagles were one penalty from pulling off the upset.

It was now the turn of Chokri el Ouaer, Esperance’s iconic keeper, to step up and fire both teams into sudden death.

In this battle of legendary custodians, only one could prevail, and it proved to be Chadli.

Crowning off his heroics of the afternoon, the green eagle flew off his line to save his peer’s penalty and send Raja into ecstasy.

In the midst of adversity, the Moroccan giants played their hearts out to win the last Champions League of the century and become the first African club to qualify for the freshly created Club World Cup.

A busy 2000 year saw the Greens finally snatch the Caf Super Cup against Africa Sports in an ultra packed Mohamed V stadium, but they exited in the second round of the Champions League after falling to 1998 Caf Cup finalists ASC Jeanne d’Arc of Senegal.

The following Champions League campaign would be more of the same; another exit at the second round, but this time at the hands of more prestigious opponents in Tout Puissant Mazembe.

2002 would see the return of a Raja side who threatened to complete with Africa’s best.

Propelled by a few veterans from their 1997-1999 sides (Jrindou, Chadli, Zakaria Aboub) and academy youngsters like Abdulwahed Abdelsamad, Amin Erbati and Hicham ‘Phenomenal’ Aboucherouane, Alkhadra El Wataniya would comfortably reach the semi-finals.

With a 2-0 deficit to overturn after losing the first leg in Abidjan against ASEC Mimosas, the Greens qualified thanks to an exceptional 4-0 win—secured late in the day—at the Mohamed V Stadium. The Moroccans had miraculously qualified for their fourth Champions League final in six years.

However, the final against SC Zamalek didn’t produce a happy ending for the Eagles when they succumbed to Tamer Abdul Hamid’s deflected shot at a packed Cairo Stadium.

Finishing the 2002 Moroccan league season out of the Champions League zone was, at first sight, a tear in the flesh for the Greens and their Champions League-thirsty fans, although they compensated for their absence in the Caf Cup.

Inspired by their two diamonds, Mustapha Bidoudane and Aboucherouane, Raja went all the way to their seventh final in seven years and a meeting with Coton Sport.

A final win in Garoua after keeping Les Cotonculteurs at bay added another African title in their cabinet. 2002’s loss was erased and a failure to qualify for the Champions League was turned into yet more silverware.

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