Mid-table Moroccans are aiming for one more upset but the European champions await in the final as the chasm that separates the teams may damage the compeition's credibility.
Raja Casablanca face mision impossible against Bayern Munich in Club World Cup
MARRAKECH // Bayern Munich could hardly have expected that their opponents in the final of the Club World Cup would be a team of average league players languishing in ninth place in the Moroccan championship.
The quirks of the competition, however, mean that is exactly who the European and Bundesliga champions will face when they take on Raja Casablanca in Marrakech on Saturday night.
It is by far the biggest mismatch in the tournament’s history and although Raja’s presence in the final will ensure huge local interest, the chasm which separates the sides may ultimately damage the competition’s credibility.
Raja’s entire squad is worth a modest €9.5 million (Dh47.6m) on the transfer market, according to the website transfermarkt.de, less than one quarter of the sum Bayern paid for Mario Goetze alone.
The total value of the Bayern squad is €487.2m, more than 50 times as much as their opponents.
While Bayern have been sweeping everything before them at home, and are unbeaten in the Bundesliga since October last year, Raja’s results in the Moroccan league have been so bad that they fired their coach Mohammed Fakhir, earlier this month.
As its name suggests, the competition brings together the club champions of Europe, South American, North America, Asia, Africa and Oceania.
However, Fifa also allow the champions of the host nation to take part and Raja Casablanca took Morocco’s place by finishing top of the league last season. (When the Club World Cup was held in Abu Dhabi, in 2009 and 2010, Al Ahli and Al Wahda entered the tournament; the former lost to a team from New Zealand, the latter beat a side from Papua New Guinea before losing 4-1 to Asia champions Seongnam Ilhwa.)
The script was that, after beating Oceania champions Auckland City in a preliminary match, Raja would have lost to the Concacaf champions Monterrey in the quarter-final or, if not, to South America’s Atletico Mineiro in the semi-finals.
But, having beaten Auckland 2-1 with a stoppage-time goal, Raja picked up momentum, gained confidence, caught their Latin American rivals on an off day and progressed to the final.
Meanwhile, Africa’s own champions, Al Ahly of Egypt, were knocked out by Asia’s Guangzhou Evergrande in the quarter-finals.
The players say that the former Tunisia and Libya coach Faouzi Benzarti, who replaced Fakhir, has made the difference.
“He’s definitely got the best out of us and given us fresh confidence after an unfortunate run of results,” the forward Mouhssine Iajour said. “His approach is more attack-minded than our previous coach. He always wants us to attack, no matter what the state of the game is.”
The midfielder Kouko Guehi, who scored the winner against Monterrey in the quarter-finals, promised a team of warriors.
“This is not just about Raja, or any city in particular, this is about Morocco as a whole,” said the Ivorian after the 3-1 semi-final win over Atletico Mineiro. “All the club presidents came here to support us, all of Morocco supports us and that is truly heart-warming.
“We will fight in this final, show them that we are men, warriors. We are going to fight on all fronts to win this final.”
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the Bayern Munich president, warned the Bavarians to be on their guard.
“There can be no complacency and arrogance just because they’re not well-known in the footballing world,” he said, though he added there was little danger of his team underestimating their opponents.
“The team is too stable, has too much good character, and the coach is too ambitious this year. All of them want this trophy. It would mean we’ve won everything there is to win.”