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Unpacking AmaZulu’s historic clash against Raja

When the 2021 Caf Champions League started, no one would have guessed that AmaZulu would weather Africa Safari storms to dance with the big boys in the money-spinning group stages of the prestigious competition.

Tonight, Usuthu face off with reigning Caf Confederations champions Raja Casablanca in a potentially explosive encounter in Morocco. 

The FARPost Technical Study Group (TSG) runs the rule over Usuthu’s opponents Raja and weighs their chances for success in the African premier club competition.

1. Who is Raja Casablanca 

The club was established in March 1949 as an outlet for the city’s working-class. Raja is by far the biggest team in Morocco. In terms of the numbers, they eclipse rival Wydad Casablanca as the most supported club in the country. In contrast to Wydad, which draws its supporters from the middle class, Raja represents the working-class masses from the poor and marginalized communities.

They have been a regular feature in both Caf club competitions [Champions League and Confederation Cup]. In 2021, Raja were crowned winners of the CAF Confederation Cup and qualified for the CAF Super Cup where they lost to Pitso Mosimane’s Al Ahly on penalties.

Raja Casablanca

2. Raja’s Green Boy Ultras

Raja enjoys a lot of support in the north African country from children, women, young and old. Dominant to Raja’s existence is the presence of potent and loyal Ultras. These ferocious and partisan supporters are called the ‘Green Boy Ultras’ due to their persistent loyalty and religious following of the club. The Green Boy Ultras are one of the most visual groups of supporters in world football. Not only do Raja’s Ultras presence, popularity and attendances dwarf those of other Moroccan sides, their level of excitement is second to none.

The Green Boy Ultras begin their involvement at the airport. Visitors are made aware who are the kings of Casablanca by chants and verbal intimidation on arrival. These Ultras occupy the majority of the 65 000 capacity Stade Mohammed V. Previously teams from the PSL [Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirate] have experienced this Ultra support effect and AmaZulu will need to consult their national counterparts on how to handle this twelve man.

3. Key players

Raja’s continental pedigree is outstanding. As winners of the Champions League on three occasions, they have the appeal and niche to attract superstars. One such talent is Congolese midfielder Fabrice Ngoma. The DRC international is an enigmatic and sophisticated playmaker. He is capable of playing deep, more advanced and easily encroach the penalty area with ease.

The second key player is veteran Mouhcine Moutouali, pictured below. A seasoned midfielder of note and veteran of many African football battles. He has the ability to lead from the front and score crucial goals. As a full Moroccan international he brings stability, work ethic and discipline to the Raja troops.

4. Technical-tactical approach 

The tactical DNA of Raja has evolved over the years. From an all-offensive methodology in the early 2000s to a more compact and counterattacking style. The influence of foreign coaches is visible on the technical-tactical application of Raja, especially in their matches in the local Botola Pro League where they occupy second place behind Wydad.

Under Marc Wilmots, the Green machine has been tactically disciplined. As witnessed against Ahly in the Super Cup final, Raja mixes a disciplined defensive approach with a well-drilled counterattack ploy. Wilmots is not afraid to put synergy within a 1-3-5-2 and 1-4-3-3 attacking strategies.

5. Does Usuthu have a chance?

Besides venturing into this territory for the first time, AmaZulu have proven to be good travellers. A crucial away win at Bullets in Malawi, was followed by a tactical master plan to oust TP Mazembe in Lubumbashi. Lessons from the Pirates campaign in 2021, will be crucial to Benni McCarthy and his warriors.

Usuthu will be hoping to get a result in Casablanca

If Usuthu can weather the early 15 minutes storm, steady their nerves in defence, keep the ball when the opportunity arises and play without fear, they can produce a favourable result. Still, the history of PSL teams (results) against Raja away, doesn’t inspire confidence.

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