Pirates steal it, Raja hold on
Champions were crowned at the weekend in two of Africa’s major leagues as Orlando Pirates grabbed the title in dramatic fashion in South Africa and Raja Casablanca clinched their tenth championship in Morocco. Elsewhere, the rivalry between Zamalek and Al Ahly in Egypt took another turn at the weekend, while Algerian leaders ASO Chlef are showing signs of end-of-season nerves.
South African Premier League: Pirates snatch it
Orlando Pirates won their first championship in eight years, snatching away the title from Ajax Cape Town on a dramatic last day of the season with a goal six minutes from time. A rasping long-range shot from Isaac Chansa ensured Pirates won their home game against Lamontville Golden Arrows while Ajax were held at home by Maritzburg United. It means that Pirates edged the Cape Town side on goal difference as both finished the season on 60 points.
Big game: Ajax started the day two points clear at the top and would have won a first-ever title with a home win over lowly Maritzburg. They got a deserved lead just before half-time but then it all unraveled as veteran goalkeeper Hans Vonk made a calamitous error to allow Maritzburg a 58th-minute equaliser before a handball from defender Nazeer Allie saw Ajax fall behind. A late equaliser from Sameehg Doutie was not enough as the game ended 2-2.
Headline-grabbers: Orlando Pirates coach Ruud Krol said before the match against Arrows he still believed in miracles and was proven right as Pirates staged a dramatic comeback. Bongani Ndulula scored first for Pirates near half-time but within minutes it was back to 1-1 as Collins Mbesuma equalised for the visitors from Durban. It was not until the 84th minute that Zambian international Chansa struck a long-range effort that turned the season on its head and qualified the Buccaneers for the CAF Champions League next season.
Morocco Botola: Raja earn a star
Raja Casablanca completed their relentless march to the title, beating OC Khouribga 2-1 to go six points clear with a round to play. Erstwhile challengers MAS Fez were held to a draw, allowing outgoing champions Wydad Casablanca to move into second place.
Big game: Having lost their previous match earlier in the week, Raja looked to be making heavy weather again of the game against OCK, going behind after 14 minutes. But Rachid Soulaimani equalised before half-time and Mohcine Metouali netted a penalty 10 minutes into the second half to secure the victory and an unassailable haul of 57 points for the championship.
Headline-grabbers: The trio of Omar Hassi of Widad Fez, Fabrice Ondama of Wydad Casablanca and Ibrahima Ndione of OC Safi all scored for their respective clubs at the weekend to ensure a tight finish to the race to become the league’s top goalscorer. Hassi now has 10, which puts him level with Jaouad Ouaddouch of FAR Rabat, while imports Ondama and Ndoine have nine goals each.
Egypt Premier League: More changes
Zamalek have waited seven years for the Egyptian title and with eight matches left to play this season, they have their destiny in their own hands after opening up a three-point lead over arch-rivals Al Ahly, champions in each of the last six seasons. Zamalek won a tough away game at Arab Contractors while Ahly dropped potentially vital points in a 2-2 draw with Military Production.
Big game: Mahmoud Abdel Razek Fadlallah, known as Shikabala, has been a rumoured target for several European clubs for some time and offered further evidence of his quality with a free-kick winner as Zamalek won 3-2. It came two minutes from time after relegation-threatened Arab Contractors had twice fought their way back into the game.
Headline-grabbers: Manuel Jose’s third stint at Al Ahly has been about stopping a slide in fortunes for African football’s most successful side, but the veteran Portuguese coach is warning he might not be able to save them this time. Jose has told his players that poor performances rather than the quality of the opposition will cost them the title if they do not turn around their fortunes over the coming weeks.
Algeria Premier Division: Showing nerves
ASO Chlef lost to MC Oran over the weekend, but they still have a three-point advantage and two games in hand on second CR Belouizdad. A first defeat for Chlef in the league since November has opened up the title race, even if in theory they could have an nine-point advantage over their closest rivals.
Big game: A penalty from Seddik Berradja just before half-time handed MC Oran a 1-0 win over ASO Chlef. It means that the provincial side seeking their first-ever title are showing signs of nerves in the closing stages. They also drew in their previous outing and one point out of a possible six puts pressure on their players ahead of their next game at home to JS Kabylie on Tuesday.
Headline-grabbers: Belouizdad beat bottom-placed CA Bordj Bou Arreridj 2-0 to extend to four their winning streak and keep up the pressure on the leaders. Argentine-born coach Miguel Gamondi, a veteran of the African circuit, has seen his side win key games in recent weeks at MC Oran and at home to USM Blida, while former African champions JS Kabylie were put to the sword 7-1.
The top two teams both won at the weekend to keep up the status quo in Nigeria, but leaders Dolphin FC’s success in their Garden City derby with Sharks at Port Harcourt has boosted hopes of a first league title in seven years.
Black Africa drew their last game of the season in Namibia to finish 10 points clear of runners-up Ramblers.
Leaders Tusker FC were held to a goalless draw in Kenya’s Premier League at the weekend and now hold a slender two-point lead.