Casablanca clash guarantees drama

In February 1969, an earthquake beneath the Atlantic Ocean stirred up a tidal wave that caused minor damage in Casablanca. Seismic activity is rare in the Moroccan city these days, but twice a year the ground trembles with the passions aroused whenever Wydad lock horns with Raja. Held in the Stade Mohamed V in the heart of town, Morocco’s most spirited derby can always be relied upon to spark its own waves of joy and despair as well.

Continuing with our look at legendary rivalries around the world, now turns the spotlight on the history of duels between Wydad Athletic Club (WAC) and Raja Club Athletic.

The origins
The Casablanca derby is above all a sporting rivalry between two of the three most successful clubs in the land, with FAR Rabat completing the country’s celebrated triumvirate. WAC have 11 league titles to their name in addition to a CAF Champions League crown, while Raja have amassed three domestic titles fewer but two more Champions Leagues.

Away from the pitch, the two sides are easier to separate thanks to their contrasting identities, WAC fans traditionally coming from middle-class backgrounds and supporters of Raja typically associated with the city’s more working-class neighbourhoods.

Taking a historical perspective, their rivalry is intimately tied up with the figure of one man who left his imprint on both outfits: Affani Mohamed Ben Lahcen, known more commonly as Pere Jego. One of the founders of WAC in 1937 and the club’s first football coach, he earned his place in the hearts of the Wydad faithful by winning an earlier incarnation of today’s national league four times, as well as clinching three North African titles and one North African Cup.

Popular, gifted with an eye for talent and a master of the more psychological aspects of the game, Pere Jego nonetheless upset club officials and found himself out of a job in 1952. He was unable to simply walk away from the sport he loved, though, and promptly offered his services to WAC’s neighbours, who happily made the most of his passion and experience. Raja’s supporters were soon seduced by their new coach’s charisma and the attractive football he oversaw, which turned derbies with their local foes into a chance to avenge his honour.

*Facts and figures *The Moroccan championship was launched in 1956 and the first Casablanca derby was held the same year, with Raja overcoming their more senior opponents. That was the first of 37 wins for the Greens in 119 contests in all competitions, including 105 in the league, while the Reds have celebrated 29 victories and 53 matches have ended all square. The goal tally favours Raja too, with their 89 strikes comparing favourably to WAC’s 75.

The top scorer in games between the two sides is former Raja and Moroccan national winger Said Gandhi, who found the Wydad net on seven occasions in the 1970s. The Green half of the city can also lay claim to the player to have appeared in the most derbies, defender Abdellatif Jrindou having experienced the unique atmosphere 16 times – four more than WAC’s Hicham Louissi.

Tales of derbies past
While the years are littered with many memorable encounters between the two teams, their legendary rivalry in fact predates their first meeting on the field of play. Asked which of the two clubs he preferred ahead of that game,* Pere Jego* answered that his “heart leans towards Wydad but that Raja symbolise the strength of [his] character”. Despite Wydad’s superiority at the time, the iconic coach predicted Raja would emerge winners from their inaugural meeting – and the Greens duly prevailed 1-0.

The struggle for local and national domination has perhaps unsurprisingly taken on international proportions as well. Influenced by *Pere Jego’s *voyages around Europe, Wydad first made a name for themselves while employing a physical style of play with an emphasis on tactical awareness and a lone centre-forward. A few years later while at Raja, on the other hand, he found inspiration from his trips around South America and had his team practising a more spectacular approach based on impeccable technique. These days, both sides have their fair share of entertainers and powerful ball-winners, but for a long time the derby offered up a fascinating contrast between the 'English' style of Wydad and Raja’s 'Brazilian' philosophy.

Among the fondest memories for Raja fans must feature the 5-1 triumph in the quarter-final of the Moroccan Cup in 1996/97, the largest margin of victory in derby history. Likewise, Hicham Aboucharouane’s stoppage-time winner on 30 April 2005 is unlikely to be forgotten in a long time, securing as it did the league title for the Greens. Fortunately for WAC supporters, they exacted their revenge the very next year, Hicham Louissi hitting the target with the last kick of the 100th derby to sew up his team’s first national crown in 13 years.

*The present *After two years of matches in Rabat to limit the potential for crowd trouble, the derby returned to the Stade Mohamed V this term. Sunday brings the eternal foes back together again and, five years after their last league title, Raja know victory would take them a significant step closer to a ninth domestic crown. As things stand, the Greens enjoy a nine-point lead over nearest rivals FAR and need seven points from their five remaining outings to be sure of glory.

With WAC a distant 11 points back in fourth, the title looks very much beyond their reach, despite the fact they have a game in hand. Their principal target as the season draws to a close is their upcoming Champions League final against Esperance de Tunis, and a win over their traditional rivals would provide a stunning boost to confidence going into their second high-profile match in the space of a week.

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