Wydad coach Lhoussaine Ammouta reflects on his team's CAF Champions League win
**He explains how much his players are now looking forward to
The Moroccan tactician shares his thoughts on first opponents Pachuca When Wydad kicked off in the 2017 CAF Champions League, few predicted that their trail would end in glory. The naysayers were soon left eating their words as Lhoussaine Ammouta and his players proved everyone wrong, lifting the trophy thanks to a solid defence, clinical attack and all-round application. It was a stunning success, and one that owed much to a coach capable of getting the best out of his charges.
That tale of triumph could so easily have been different, however. The Moroccan outfit's route to the title was littered with obstacles, and their campaign almost ended before it had begun. "In the first round, we played against Gabonese side Mounana," says Ammouta, in an exclusive interview with FIFA.com. "We beat them (1-0) in Casablanca, but we had to get through a penalty shoot-out to qualify over there."
Wydad were then drawn in a tough group along with Egyptian club Al Ahly, Cameroonian hopefuls Coton Sport and Zambia's Zanaco. Despite the experience of their section rivals, Wydad defied the odds by clinching top spot.
"We won our first match against Coton Sport and then lost against Zanaco and Al Ahly," recalls Ammouta. "That left us in third place and needing to win our last three games to qualify. Thanks to God, we managed to beat Al Ahly (2-0) and then won by the same scoreline away to Coton Sport. We finished off by getting a tough (1-0) victory against Zanaco, who were top of the group, and that sealed our place in the next round."
If Wydad were hoping for an easier challenge at the start of the knockout phase, they were soon to be disappointed. Instead, Ammouta and Co were pitted against the holders themselves, Mamelodi Sundowns. "Sundowns were the reigning champions and had several experienced internationals in their ranks," explains the Wydad coach. "It was a difficult quarter-final. We lost by a single goal away but won by the same scoreline at home, before going through on penalties."
Even that was not their stiffest test. For Ammouta, Wydad's greatest challenge came in the semi-finals. "It was the tie against USM Alger, who have a fearsome attack, a talented midfield and top-qualify full-backs. We were lucky enough to get a draw in Algeria, and then we got two early goals in the return game. Amine Atouchi's red card allowed them to reduce the deficit, but we scored a third goal in the closing moments to relieve the pressure."
The home side needed all their mental strength to emerge victorious, and their resilience was called upon again in the final. "We faced Al Ahly after their big win (6-2) against Etoile du Sahel, and we were playing at their Borg El Arab stadium," says Ammouta. "We conceded a goal in the second minute, but our strength of character allowed us to equalise in the 15th. That goal gave us confidence, despite Mohammed Ounnajem, one of our best players, picking up an injury.
"The pressure was intense in the return game and we struggled to begin with against a well-organised side. We hit the crossbar and then opened the scoring through Walid El Karti after a pass by Achraf Bencherki. Thanks to the support of our fans, we ended up winning the title."
Representing Morocco and Africa
As continental champions, Wydad now face the heavy responsibility of representing Africa at the FIFA Club World Cup, which Ammouta considers one of the finest tournaments in football. "It's an honour for me, as a Moroccan coach, and for us, as a Moroccan club, to take part in the Club World Cup," he says. "It's a competition that brings together teams from every continent, including Real Madrid. It's also a responsibility because we have to live up to the standard of Moroccan and African football."
His side kick off in the United Arab Emirates against Pachuca, and Ammouta has already started to analyse the Mexican club. "They've appeared in this competition five times previously and they have very good players in midfield and attack," he says. "But I still think Wydad can win, thanks to our potential."
Beyond that initial challenge, Wydad are aiming high. "We're targeting the final," says Ammouta. "We can't afford to make too many mistakes because the minor details make all the difference in football. Our players acquired lots of experience in the Champions League and now hope to sign for clubs abroad. They can show what they're capable of in this competition and catch the eye of the big European teams. Their desire to progress ought to help us get good results in the Emirates."
Pachuca-Wydad (9 December, 17:00 local time), Zayed Stadium, Abu Dhabi