African Leagues review
MAS Fez find themselves alone on top of the table in Morocco, but it is a crowded affair in South Africa, with Mamelodi Sundowns right back in the race. Dolphin FC are opening up a sizeable gap in Nigeria, and the new season kicked off in Sudan with wins for the two favourites for this year’s championship.
Morocco: A leader emerges
After weeks of congestion and changing fortunes at the top of the Botola standings, MAS Fez have opened up a two-point lead after favourites Raja Casablanca faltered and with OC Safi waiting to play their two games in hand. Champions Wydad Casablanca remain down in seventh place but are just 10 points behind the leaders
Big game: Fez won for the 10th time this season, although they were on the back foot early on as FUS Rabat came into the game with surprising enterprise. But once centre back Moustapha Mrani opened the scoring on the half-hour mark, Fez were able to settle down. Nonetheless, they threatened to throw away the advantage when Samir Zekroumi netted an own goal, only for Senegalese import Kader Fall to pop up for the winner 10 minutes from time.
Headline-grabbers: El Jadida have been in the headlines for the wrong reasons of late as they battle near the foot of the standings. Coach Karama Khalid departed with a stinging verbal volley and the club’s president Mustapha Moundib resigned. But they put up a plucky performance to beat Raja with a early goal from Mohamed Maarouf. El Jehida held out despite going down to 10 men for the last 21 minutes when Vivien Madibe picked up a second yellow card.
South Africa: Back to a four-way race
A slump in form after the brief Christmas break and the departure of Spanish coach Antonio Lopez had many writing off the chances of Mamelodi Sundowns, but the club have come back strongly in recent weeks. Indeed, after beating Lamontville Golden Arrows, the Sundowns are now just three points behind leaders Orlando Pirates with six matches to go. Pirates drew, while another share of the spoils for Kaizer Chiefs saw them drop to fourth, although still well within range of top spot.
Big game: Bloemfontein Celtic have the only unbeaten home record in the South African top flight this season and Orlando Pirates have not lost away. So it was fitting their match in front of an overflowing crowd in Bloemfontein ended 1-1, given an added twist by a late equaliser for Celtic from Siphelele Mthembu – on loan from Pirates. Pirates broke the 50-point league barrier but now lead Ajax Cape Town by just a single point.
Headline-grabbers: Thulani Serero popped up again with a vital goal for Ajax Cape Town as they put aside a midweek setback to beat bottom side Mpumalanga Black Aces 2-1 at home. On paper it should have been a routine assignment for Ajax but Aces are battling for survival and proved a tough opponent. Serero’s 71st-minute strike made it 2-0 for Ajax after Guinea-born Seydouba Soumah scored the opener, his first in professional football.
Sudan: Start of a new season
After three weeks of hosting the African Nations Championship, which ended in a disappointing third place for their national side, Sudan’s team dissembled and headed back to their respective clubs for the commencement of a new season. With it comes the perennial question: who will win between Al Hilal or Al Merreikh? Between them, the two teams from the capital have won every championship stretching back to 1969.
Big game: Of the two giants, Al Merreikh faced the tougher start to the new season away at Hilal Alsahel and found themselves a goal down before the half-hour mark. But the club, who had to hurriedly leave Libya last month, where they were conducting their pre-season preparations, were 2-1 up before half-time and took all three points. Al Hilal scored three second-half goals without reply to beat Al Nil.
Headline-grabbers: Celebrated goalkeeper Essam Al Hadari has won over 100 caps for Egypt but left his country after several run-ins with officials to join Al Merreikh. He also had to serve a four-month ban for irregularities in his 2008 transfer to Swiss club FC Sion, but he was back to feature in goal as the club made a winning start under new Egyptian coach Hossam Al Badri, who was last year in charge of Cairo giants Al Ahly
Nigeria: The gap widens
Dolphin FC have now established a seven-point lead at the top of the standings, keeping up their impressive form with an away win. Sunshine Stars lost ground with an away draw at Crown FC, although the second-placed side do have a game in hand. Warri Wolves went back to third again with their win over Shooting Stars.
Big game: Dolphin, away to JUTH, handed out some footballing lessons to the players of Jos University Teaching Hospital after Victor Michael gave them the first half lead. With 20 minutes still to play, they had already wrapped up the points with two more from Samuel Aaron and Owusu Addae.
Headline-grabbers: Ikechukwu Ibenegbu missed out on the chance of a Nigerian international debut last month because of injury, but he sent a timely reminder of his potential to national coach Samson Siasia with a goal in Heartland’s 3-0 win over Ocean Boys. Nigeria are expected to name their squad this week for the upcoming CAF Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Ethiopia.
Tunisia’s league will resume for the first time this year next weekend, but the start of Ligue 1 in Côte d’Ivoire is delayed by the political instability in the country.
Champions Liga Muculmana got off to a winning start on the opening weekend of the new MocamBola season in Mozambique, beating Vilankulo 1-0 away.
Two former African champions met in Cameroon’s Elite 1, with Union Douala winning 3-1 away at Canon Yaounde.