By Deolu Akingbade.
Game of the Week: Simba 0, Raja 3
Simba’s Group C clash with Morocco’s Raja Casablanca was monumental. It cemented the fact that Raja is a bonafide contender. Their utter humiliation of what should have been one of Group C’s better sides marked their excellence, while also planting seeds of worry in a Simba fanbase that has been less than excellent all season.
And yes, Raja was the favorite going into the tournament. Having demolished CAF Champions League debutants Vipers SC 5-0, they looked refreshingly aggressive, able to switch positions and flick passes anywhere on the pitch to create space and find the right man. Although you could make the case that Vipers is a relatively weak side, the Raja faithful held hope — expectation? — that they would get a similar scoreline in Dar es Salaam.
Simba seemed worse off than Raja. They entered their home match smarting from a narrow 1-0 loss to Horoya where neither side could really create the offense title-winning teams can. Combine that with the fact that Simba trailed Yanga SC by eight points in the race for the Tanzanian Premier League title, and you can assume that the crowd at Benjamin Mkapa National Stadium was anxious. But their exciting domestic form; four straight wins and an unbeaten streak of fifteen (!!) games meant that Simba was a credible threat.
Mondher Kebaier’s Raja side lined up in a 4-1-3-2 shape on paper. Famed stopper Anas Zniti earned yet another start between the posts, as he was supported by a back four of Mahmoud Bentayg, Ismail Mokadem, Jamal Harkass, and Abdessamad Badaoui from left to right.
Togolese midfielder Roger Aholou was the lone pivot, as Mohamed Zrida stepped up to play in an advanced midfield position. Yousri Bouzok on the left and Mohamed Al Makahasi supported a formidable wide attack, while a front two of Hamza Khabba and Zakaria Habti looked to preserve Raja’s winning ways.
Robertinho’s Simba SC handed Aishi Manula a start as they roared out the gate in what looked like a 4-2-3-1. Mohamed Husseini, Joash Onyango, Enoch Inonga Baka, and Shomari Kapombe formed the back four as Saidi Ntibazonkiza and Ismael Sawadogo worked together to form a double pivot.
Mzamiru Yasin took on an advanced midfield position, supported by the mercurial Clatous Chama on the left and Pape Ousmane Sakho on the right. John Bocco was the number nine as the ball kicked off on a rowdy Tanzania night. Star player Moses Phiri, struggling for minutes, sat for the second straight time.
The match was interesting because of its tactical fluidity, especially from the Green Eagles. Khabba and Habti roamed the final third together, bouncing from wing to wing and effortlessly shifting towards the ball when needed. Zrida was the mastermind behind their creativity, completing 27 passes and three dribbles. Without him, the offense would not quite be the same.
With the presence of a creator in Zrida, Raja were free to make very aggressive, looping runs to gain space or draw defenders out. Their flashy midfield link-ups, filled with quick passes and incisive movement, also helped throw the Simba defense out of position, leading to plenty of good chances. Kebaier’s intelligent, ruthless side fought and thought like winners.
On defense, Aholou dropped deep into the back line and Habti joined the midfield to create a solid but still aggressive 5-4-1 on defense. Although Simba had most of the possession, Raja’s sporadic but intense press helped rush passes, leading to interceptions and counters.
When Raja were not pestering their Tanzanian counterparts, they were sitting deep, conceding space but offering the imminent threat of counter-attack. So, for the most part, Kebaier trusted the back five and core central midfielders to deal with Simba’s attack as Raja looked to pick the ball up and go.
It seemed like amidst the brilliance and lustre of Raja’s adept, title-contending team, we forgot the massive danger signs looming around Simba’s side. In attack, they were physically dominated; in defense, stunned by Raja’s passing; in transition, outpaced.
There were signs of excellence. Robertinho’s side favored creativity on the wings, with one-twos and through balls common. Chama, arguably one of the best wingers in Africa, benefitted greatly from Simba’s wide attack, completing four of five dribbles, getting 81 touches, and completing three of four long balls.
Yasin was similarly solid, getting 73 touches, completing 47 passes, and seven long balls. However, the attack seemed disjointed. Chama and Yasin were the main attraction, as striker John Bocco seemed uninvolved in the offense and Sakho was stifled by Raja’s Bentayg.
Their wide four-at-the-back out of possession seemed porous, to say the least. Simba conceded eleven shots, eight of which were inside the box. The back line was slow to react in life-or-death situations and happy to step out of the way and concede space transitionally. The problem was that Simba allowed Raja too much time on the ball in transition. They moved in slow-motion, and their molasses-like defense paid dearly for it.
Raja’s three goals were the beautiful mixture of individual beauty and tactical precision. After a sluggish Simba say Raja get the ball from them in the final third in the 32nd minute, they were near helpless to stop a clinical Raja attack, ending with Habti finding Khabba for an outside-the-box curling effort to make the match 1-0.
Despite Simba’s extended spells of possession, Raja struck again 81st minute, with Al Makahasi finding Sofiane Benjdida on the wing despite a double-team near the halfway line. Benjdida set up a one-on-one situation with the keeper, and buried the shot.
Four minutes later, Yousri Bouzok killed the game when he latched on to a cutting Benjdida through-ball to set up a one-on-one with experienced center-back Joash Onyango. After nearly shooting, Benjdida beat Onyango down the baseline looking to connect with a streaking Benjdida, but Onyango dragged him down to the ground. Ismail Mokadem promptly converted the following penalty to finish the game 3-0.
CAF Champions League
Al-Merrikh 0, Zamalek 0
Coton Sport 1, Mamelodi Sundowns 3
JS Kabylie 1, Wydad 0
Al-Hilal 1, Al Ahly 0
Vipers 0, Horoya 0
Vita Club 1, Petro Atletico 2
CR Belouizdad 0, ES Tunis 1
CAF Confederation Cup
Saint-Eloi Lupopo 1, Gallants 2
Saint-Eloi Lupopo Goals:
Patou Kabangu 82′
Mpho Mvelase 24′
Ranga Chivaviro 42′
Saint-Eloi Lupopo plays Al Akhdar at home on Sunday.
Gallants plays USM Alger away from home on Sunday.
Réal Bamako 1, US Monastir 1
Réal Bamako Goals:
Makan Samabaly: 48′
US Monastir Goals:
Zied Aloui 77′
Réal Bamako plays Young Africans at home on Sunday.
US Monastir plays TP Mazembe away from home on Sunday.
Rivers United 3, ASEC 0
Rivers United Goals:
Malachi Ohawume 1′
Ukeme Williams 42′
Ngweni Ndassi 48′
Rivers United plays Motema Pembe away from home on Sunday.
ASEC plays Diables Noirs at home on Sunday.
Future 1, Pyramids 1
Ghanam Mohamed 53′
Mohamed Sharaf 7′
Future plays FAR Rabat away from home on Sunday.
Pyramids plays ASKO at home on Sunday.
Al Akhdar 1, USM Alger 1
Al Akhdar Goals:
Suhaib Shafshuf 67′
USM Alger Goals:
Tumisang Orebonye 77′
Al Akhdar plays Saint-Eloi Lupopo away from home on Sunday.
USM Alger plays Gallants at home on Sunday.
Young Africans 3, TP Mazembe 1
Young Africans Goals:
Kennedy Musonda 7′
Mudathiri Yahya 11′
Tuisila Kisinda 90+2′
TP Mazembe Goals:
Alex Ngonga 80′
Young Africans plays Réal Bamako at home on Sunday.
TP Mazembe plays US Monastir at home on Sunday.
FAR Rabat 5, ASKO 1
FAR Rabat Goals:
Mohamed Rabie Hrimat 39′
Ahmad Hamoudan 50′
Hamza Igmane 63′
Mustapha Sahd 67′
Zakaria Fati 90+2′
Harrissou Ouro-Bodi 16′
FAR Rabat plays Future at home on Sunday.
ASKO plays Pyramids away from home on Sunday.
Motema Pembe 0, Diables Noirs 0
Motema Pembe plays Rivers United at home on Sunday.
Diables Noirs plays ASEC away from home on Sunday.