CAF CL final 2022 talking points

The atmosphere played a large part 

The run up to the match was dominated by the debate over the fairness of hosting a one-legged tie in Casablanca, Wydad’s homebase, after the controversial timing of the selection of the venue. Without delving deep into that argument, you would have to be a hardcore Wydad fan to say that this was not a huge advantage to Wydad.  

With so many Al Ahly fans being unable to make it to Casablanca at such short notice, the stadium was filled with Wydad fans and it felt more like a home match, rather than a final at a neutral venue. Hours before kick off the stadium was already packed and, watching on as a neutral, I could not imagine Al Ahly winning in such circumstances.  

From the first minute, the decibel levels which were an attack on the sense and the early goal only increased the volume. As much as Al Ahly tried to silence the crowd, this was a home crowd which was too pumped up for the occasion and, in the end, only wanted one thing, with the knowledge that they had a key part to play in pushing their team to glory. 

That’s not to make excuses for Al Ahly. When all is said and done, great teams do find a way, and they did not rise up to the occasion and Al Ahly simply didn’t on the day.  

Walid Regragui has got the most out of this team 

Bar the defence, many of Wydad’s hardcore faithful find this version of Wydad inferior, man-to-man, than the one which lifted the CL In 2017. There is no doubt that Regragui has squeezed more out of this team than the sum of its parts.  

He has done that through galvanising the club on and off the pitch. A coach’s job at certain clubs is not just to bring players with them, but also fans with them along the journey. Regragui has done just that. The product is a team that believes, and followers who also believe in them to deliver against any opposition in front of them. Though Zouheir El Moutaraji will be remembered as the hero, this was a triumph for the collective. 

Wydad played to their strengths and seized their chances 

The fans I spoke to before the match knew this wouldn’t be an aesthetically beautiful win, if they were to win. Given Wydad’s style of play under Regragui there was a quiet, lowkey confidence. They knew it would have to be done the hard way, with sweat and toil, and some blood.  

Wydad were happy to play sufferball, defending deep and swiftly capitalising where Al Ahly made mistakes. The goal to seal it was a supreme counter-attack, just when Al Ahly had thought they had had them pinned back with sterner knocks on the door. 

Zouheir El Moutaraji the hero 

So often a frustrating figure, this was the crowning of Zouheir El Moutaraji, and a reward to the club for showing their faith in the academy product over the years, despite calls to discard him. At 26 he’s no longer a youngster.  

But like many players across the world, he has been the beneficiary of the Coronavirus pandemic, of a break from fans which allowed him to discover himself without their pressure from the standards. That change in form has been apparent, and the manner which he took the opening goal was a ratification of his development and maturity in the last two years. 

One-legged Champions League finals are a good idea – in theory 

It is a chance to go to somewhere different. Perhaps to some places you wouldn’t go to otherwise. The one-legged nature of it also gives it a proper, big-match feeling in the days leading up to the match. 

Practically though, it is hard to execute this in Africa. The continent is still not interconnected enough, with air travel expensive and most countries not connected via other modes of transport. Then there is the issue of visas and how long they take to process. Al Ahly couldn’t fill their allocation – not because they lack the number of fans, but because of the practicalities of fans making it to the games. The fact that it was on a Monday night only served as another barrier to the fan experience. 

In an ideal world, we would know the venue in advance and there would be plentiful time for the bureaucratic processes to run their course. Air travel would be affordable, and fans would have the disposable income to travel in numbers, wherever the match is. Unfortunately, we are still a long way away from that and reverting to the two-legged tie seems to be the sensible thing to do. 

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