Raja Casablanca players celebrate. Photo: AFP
Moroccan club Raja Casablanca survived a second-half battering from Algerian rivals JS Kabylie with 10 men to win the CAF Confederation Cup final 2-1 in Benin’s economic capital Cotonou on Saturday.
In a tale of two halves at the Stade de l’Amitie the Casablanca outfit raced into a two-goal lead within 14 minutes through goals from star attackers Soufiane Rahimi and Ben Malango.
But Kabylie pulled one goal in the first minute of the second half through Zakaria Boulahia and took control when Omar Arjoune was shown a straight red card on 63 minutes.
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A Kabylie side that had been disorganised during the opening half began to string together passes and some of the football drew warm applause from a limited crowd in the 20,000-seater due to coronavirus.
But an equaliser evaded the club from the northeastern city of Tizi Ouzou and Algeria remain without a winner since the African equivalent of the UEFA Europa League kicked off 17 years ago.
Rahimi, voted the outstanding player at the African Nations Championship in Cameroon last February, dribbled past goalkeeper Oussama Benbot to score on five minutes.
Kabylie protested that the Moroccan was offside, but South African referee Victor Gomes awarded the goal after a VAR check.
Rahimi turned creator as Raja doubled their advantage on 14 minutes thanks to a close-range shot from physically imposing Congolese Malango.
Boulahia scored his third goal of the Confederation Cup campaign by slamming a rebound past goalkeeper Anas Zniti and into the bottom left corner of the net.
It was the second Confederation Cup triumph within four seasons for Raja and eighth overall in CAF competitions, confirming them as the fifth most successful club.
Raja have won the Champions League three times, the Confederation Cup and Super Cup twice each and the now defunct CAF Cup once.
Al Ahly are the runaway leaders with 21 titles followed by another Egyptian side, Zamalek, and TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo with 11 each, Etoile Sahel of Tunisia with nine and Raja with eight.
Apart from the $1.25 million (1.05 mn euros) first prize, Raja will face the CAF Champions League winners for the CAF Super Cup on a date to be announced.
Ahly are hot favourites to win the Champions League a record-extending 10th time next Saturday when they face shock qualifiers Kaizer Chiefs of South Africa in the title decider in Casablanca.