Raja Club Athletic’s last-gasp win over Auckland City FC earned them their place in the quarter-finals of the FIFA Club World Cup Morocco 2013, but Faouzi Benzarti’s side were far from convincing against the New Zealand outfit. CF Monterrey, their opponents in the last eight, will be a different proposition entirely. The Mexicans arrived in Morocco with high expectations and are determined to continue their impressive record in the competition. The winners will face one of the tournament favourites Atletico Mineiro in the last four.
Faouzi Benzarti has only been in the hot seat at Raja Casablanca for a few days, something that was perhaps evident in the Moroccan champions’ first match of the competition. The new coach did not have time to stamp his authority on the team before the quarter-final against Auckland City and thus their build-up play was a little slow in parts. They had to wait until the second minute of stoppage time for Abdelilah Hafidi’s winner, which sent his team-mates and the Raja fans, who generated a fantastic atmosphere throughout the match, into raptures. The home faithful will be looking to spur their team to victory in their next match, which would ensure Raja’s first ever semi-final appearance at a FIFA Club World Cup.
Monterrey, winners of the CONCACAF Champions League, will have to find a way to cope with Raja’s twelfth man. This is the Mexicans’ third consecutive Club World Cup appearance and, after finishing fifth in 2011 and third in 2012, they are desperate to make the next step. Jose Guadalupe Cruz has been in charge since August and would like nothing better than to win his first title in Morocco. He will have studied Raja’s 2-1 win against Auckland and the New Zealand team’s ability to pressurise their opponents with quick counter-attacks will not have gone unnoticed. Whether Monterrey will be able to attack Raja with similar speed remains to be seen – the Mexicans have not played a competitive match since 9 November. Their domestic season reached a premature end when they failed to qualify for the quarter-finals of the Apertura.
4 – Raja Casablanca took four attempts to win their first match at a Club World Cup. In 2000, the Moroccans lost to Corinthians (2-0), Al-Nassr (4-3) and Real Madrid (3-2). Monterrey have won three and lost two of their five matches at this tournament. Two of their three victories have come against African opponents (Esperance and Al-Ahly).
“This is just the beginning. There are a couple of things we’re trying to improve on and it’s my job to make sure we do just that. The Mexican team aren’t bad, they’re well-organised and play good football. We will analyse the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition, but we’re determined to play an attacking game, while remaining responsible at the back,” Raja Casablanca coach Faouzi Benzarti.
“The experiences we’ve had in recent tournaments puts us in good stead for the match. We know we’re up against strong opposition in every game at this tournament. Just a moment’s carelessness could cost us our place in the semi-final. The matches require our complete and utter focus and are very intense,” CF Monterrey captain Jose Maria Basanta.