On Wednesday the whole of Morocco will come to a standstill to watch Raja Casablanca take on Atletico Mineiro in the semi-finals of the FIFA Club World Cup. Even before the tournament began, excitement was high at the prospect of seeing star names such as Ronaldinho. The fact the Brazilian ace and his team-mates will be facing the local favourites after their surprising run to the last four has only added to the enthusiasm. Marrakech will be packed to the rafters with the fervent supporters who have added so much to the competition, as the two sides battle it out to claim a place in the final.
Raja Casablanca have been living the dream at their second appearance at the Club World Cup. Thirteen years after disappointment at Brazil 2000, the Moroccan club came through the qualification round against Auckland City, and then got the better of CF Monterrey, thanks to a heroic performance by goalkeeper Khalid Askri. Despite some ups and downs in those matches, the team are looking stronger and stronger, with the impressive displays of Mohsine Moutaouali and Mouhssine Iajour standing out particularly. Raja have been taking full advantage of the positive energy emanating from the passionate fans. After turning the Agadir Stadium into a cauldron, the supporters will be holding an even bigger party in Marrakech, where a place in the decider will be up for grabs.
Waiting for the local outfit will be Atletico, playing their opening fixture of the competition after a week's training in Morocco. Indeed, the Copa Libertadores holders used the final months of their national championship to prepare for the tournament and will start as favourites, especially with Ronaldinho fit again. That said, they will have to withstand the pressure of playing in front of the frenetic crowd, something they used to their benefit at the Independence Stadium during their triumphant Copa Libertadores campaign. As well as their No10, star turns such as Jo, Diego Tardelli, Fernandinho and goalkeeper Victor, the hero of their continental conquest, hope to shine, enabling the club to join Corinthians, Sao Paulo and Internacional as Brazilian winners of the Club World Cup.
4 – It will be the fourth time a Brazilian team have faced an African team in the Club World Cup. The South Americans have the advantage with two victories, both obtained by Corinthians, in 2000, precisely against Raja Casablanca, and in 2012 against Al-Ahly). The single African triumph came in 2000, when TP Mazembe defeated Internacional 2-0 in the semi-finals. Raja Casablanca will be gunning to emulate the feat of the Congolese team, and also of Corinthians, the only team that were the champions of their domestic league when they reached a Club World Cup final.
“Some people say that Morocco is the Brazil of Africa. So it will be a match between the Brazil of South America and the Brazil of north Africa. It's a huge occasion for us to be facing a team that has a global superstar like Ronaldinho. He’s a magical player and everybody dreams of sharing a pitch with him. We want to show we can play,”
Raja Casablanca midfielder Chemseddine Chtibi.
“Raja’s qualification didn’t surprise me. Any team that makes it to the World Cup does so on merit. We can’t expect to win simply because we're favourites. We have to prepare well and be at our best, and even if we are, that's no guarantee of victory. Lots of factors can decide a game of football. They have good ball skills and close down space, looking to hit on the counter-attack. We need to show respect and be fully focused,” Atletico Mineiro centre-back Gilberto Silva.