Raja gets ready for Bayern in Club World Cup final
MARRAKECH, Morocco (AP) — After sweeping aside Ronaldinho and Atletico Mineiro, Moroccan club Raja Casablanca is now trying to figure out how it can stop Bayern Munich in Saturday’s Club World Cup final.
Raja surprised many by reaching the final, and is now one win from becoming the first club from outside Europe and South America to win the continental tournament.
“We will need the best of us to (win),” Raja coach Faouzi Benzarti said through a translator. “We know the character of the German teams. We should not let them attack us all the time.”
Struggling in the domestic league, Raja hired Benzarti in the buildup to the tournament. The Tunisian, who has been coaching in north Africa since the 1970s, has since guided the club to three straight victories.
While the host club is certainly in good form after beating Brazilian club Atletico in the semifinals, Bayern is looking to finish off 2013 with a record-breaking fifth trophy.
The Germans have already won the Champions League, Bundesliga, German Cup and UEFA Super Cup.
“We’re playing against a whole country, not just a team,” Bayern coach Pep Guardiola said on Friday. “It will be a tough, exciting final.”
Bayern beat Asian champion Guangzhou Evergrande of China 3-0 in the semifinals, while Raja defeated Atletico Mineiro 3-1.
“Everyone expected Atletico Mineiro to make the final. No one, not even here in Morocco, thought Casablanca would make it,” Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said. “It’s a surprise to everyone, us included.”
Bayern’s attack will likely be the key to Saturday’s match at Marrakech Stadium.
The German club held 72 percent of the possession with 13 shots on goal against Guangzhou despite missing the injured Arjen Robben and Bastian Schweinsteiger.
In their absence, Franck Ribery, Mario Goetze and Thiago Alcantara guided the attack of an offense that looked similar to coach Pep Guardiola’s time at Barcelona, although with more direct passes and scoring chances.
Raja has also shown it can play attacking football, exposing Atletico’s lumbering center backs in the semifinal win.
After the match, Ronaldinho was mobbed by Raja players, who stripped him of his jersey and football boots for mementos.
“Unfortunately we didn’t close out the year with a perfect ending,” said Ronaldinho, whose side faces Guangzhou in the third-place game earlier on Saturday. “But it is something that serves as experience so that next time we are even more focused and don’t make the same mistakes.”
In the final against Bayern, Raja will have plenty of support from the home crowd and a coach with nothing to lose.
“I believe in our chances and the team. Raja is not any team, they have skills and competence,” Benzarti said. “We hope to successfully complete this wonderful adventure and to win the title.”
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