African Leagues review
With many of the top leagues in Africa taking breaks over the next few weeks while the African Nations Championship is held in Sudan, there was still vital action going on from the north of the continent to the south. Morocco's championship resumed after its winter break, while the leagues in Libya, Nigeria and South Africa continued in full swing.
Morocco: Three at the top
After one month’s break, Morocco’s Botola returned to action and underwent almost immediate change as Raja Casablanca took over the league’s leadership. Their 2-0 win over JS Massira allowed last season’s runners-up to jump ahead of MAS Fez and OC Safi on goal difference only as the trio each have 28 points from 16 games each.
Big game: Raja found it tough to break down a resilient Massira defence with the Sahrawi side more than holding their own in the first half of Sunday’s match in Casablanca. But concentration ebbed, as often happens, at the start of the second half and Hassan Souari took advantage to break the deadlock. Raja scored a tension-breaking second goal just four minutes from the end through Hassan Tahir.
Headline-grabbers: Wydad Casablanca bought reinforcements during the winter break to strengthen the defence of their title, but even with new signings, the club still failed to find the back of the net. A goalless draw with KAC Kenitra means they have put together an unwanted run of four successive goalless draws in the league, leaving new coach Fakhreddine Rajhi a patently frustrated figure, especially after Mouhssine Lajour squandered a chance to score from the penalty spot. Wydad stay sixth, five points behind the leaders.
South Africa: Pirate ship sailing on
Orlando Pirates have opened up a three-point lead at the top of the Premier League but a 1-0 away win over bottom-placed Mpumalanga Black Aces was achieved only through a late penalty. Kaizer Chiefs did not play because of the theft of power cables at Soccer City, allowing Mamelodi Sundowns to go second, only 24 hours after their coach quit.
Big game: Pirates coach Ruud Krol was happy to admit his side were handed a dose of good fortune in winning a late penalty against Aces, which Isaac Chansa slotted in off the post. But, as Krol pointed out, sometimes a slice of luck is important in a successful title chase. Aces had scored a shock first-round win over Pirates in October and have won only one other game this season, but this time they played more defensively and went looking for a draw. And they almost achieved it before defender Fabian McCarthy conceded the late spot kick.
Headline-grabbers: Antonio Lopez, the Spanish coach of Sundowns, resigned on Saturday in the wake of growing supporter discontent after their recent run of just two wins in their last seven games. Had results been different, Sundowns could have been in a dominant position in the table, but after beating Santos 3-1 on Sunday under caretaker coach Ian Gorowa, they are just three points behind the leaders.
Nigeria: Going along swimmingly
Dolphin FC were back to winning ways, beating second-placed Sunshine Stars and restoring the four-point advantage they had lost last week. The team from Port Harcourt now have six wins in their last seven matches and are threatening to open up a considerable gap on the chasing pack. Warri Wolves moved third after Ehiosun Ekigho grabbed all three goals in their home win over Sharks.
Big game: Owusu Addae provided a deft finishing touch on the half-volley, but the sweeping five-man move and an audacious final pass from Emma Nwachi were the hallmarks of a real team effort as Dolphin capitalised on their early dominance and took a 20th-minute lead against Stars.
Headline-grabbers: Ekigho scored the first hat-trick of the new season and immediately paid homage to the influence of national coach Samson Siasia, under whom he worked in the recent Super Eagles training camp. Ekigho explained that Siasia’s frustration with the number of missed chances in Premier League action saw the coach work hard on goal-scoring training with his players.
Libya: Top teams stumble
Leaders Al Ittihad needed a late goal to avoid their first defeat of the season and take a share of points against struggling Al Tahaddi, but they still managed to move three points clear after a loss for Al Ahli Benghazi, who fell from second place.
Big game: Ittihad’s trip to the Hugo Chavez Stadium saw them keep up their unbeaten record but did end a run of seven successive wins. Ahmed Zuway’s diving header late in the game ensured they were able to go home with some pride intact, even if they were groggy from the unexpected blows handed them by relegation-haunted Tahaddi.
Headline grabbers: Al Akhdar have consistently held the upper hand at home over Al Ahli Benghazi and so it proved again with a 2-0 win that puts a serious dent into the title aspirations of the club from Libya’s second city. It was only Al Ahli’s second defeat of the league season but there were no complaints after goals from Remi Adiko (penalty) and Azhar Al Nahass secured a deserved victory for the hosts.
Egypt canceled all premier league games for a second successive weekend as a result of street protests in Cairo and elsewhere around the country, but this time the stoppage to the season is indefinite.
Township Rollers’ march to a second successive title continued in Botswana as they opened up a 10-point gap over Mochudi Centre Chiefs.
A new format for the national league has been unveiled in Congo DR, with a play-off to decide the participants to be held in March.