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Top of Group C at stake


Sundowns and Wydad’s rivalry is huge and it will reach fever-pitch in Pretoria

THE competition will be fierce, the referee will be under the spotlight and both benches will animatedly live every moment even though Mamelodi Sundowns and Wydad Casablanca have already qualified for the quarter-finals of the Caf Champions League.

But at the end of the match, both sets of players and technical teams will shake hands after another gruelling match in what is fast becoming a huge rivalry in African football. There is mutual respect and a huge desire to win whenever these two teams meet.

Those aspects will be on show when they square off on Saturday in Pretoria in the last Group C match.

The Brazilians lead Wydad by two points, which means a draw will be good enough for Sundowns to win the group, while the Moroccans need a win.

The two teams’ rivalry is in huge contrast to the heated political battle between their countries due to the disputed Western Sahara region.

South Africa recognises the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic as an independent state, but Morocco considers it their province with certain autonomous rights.

This stance has led to a strained relationship between the South African and Moroccan governments, with the fallout reaching business and even sports. Safa withdrew their futsal team because the tournament will be staged in Laayoune, the largest city of the disputed territory of Western Sahara and administered by Morocco.

The tournament kicks off today and will run until next Tuesday. Safa wrote a letter to the Moroccan Football Federation voicing their concerns about the choice of venue, and pulled out at the behest of the South African government.

This was another incident where political drama has spilled onto the sporting arena.

In June last year two-time Olympics champion Caster Semenya couldn’t run at the IAAF Diamond League meet in Rabat.

The Moroccan authorities only confirmed her invitation when it was impossible for her to fly to Morocco.

This tit-for-tat fight between the two governments is what makes the Wydad and Sundowns rivalry interesting, especially since it’s steeped in respect. Wydad fans have even called for Sundowns coach Pitso Mosimane to manage their club.

Mosimane is doing his Caf Pro License in Morocco, where he is loved and enjoys lighthearted banter with Moroccan coaches who remind him how much he has struggled against Wydad in Morocco.

This weekend’s clash will be a continuation of that fierce battle despite both having secured their places in the knockout stage.

Topping the group is a huge incentive for the winner as it will allow them home-ground advantage in the second leg of their quarter-final and a smoother passage to the final as they will face runners’ up instead of the winners.

The two team have a rich history in the tournament, stretching from 2017 when Wydad eliminated Sundowns who were then defending champions before going on to win the tournament.

They have faced each other in the Champions League every year since then, including last year when they met in the group stage and semi-finals.

Wydad have an edge in that they have won most of the matches that count. Sundowns would love to beat Wydad, not just to top the group but to also frustrate an old enemy that has consistently had their number. Wydad, just like the Moroccan government, have won most of the fights that matter with their South African counterparts.

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