A MATCH BETWEEN NORTH AND SOUTH, HOSTED IN THE WEST!
So last night we witnessed the classic final of the African version of the europa league. This time around the final was slated for the Godswill Akpabio international stadium in my very own city of Uyo in Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria. This was a match between two extremes, Orlando Pirates of South Africa and RS Berkane of Morocco of Northern Africa.
This was a fight between the North and South, with the West playing host (sorry East, you missed out, lol). But then if you were in the stadium last night you would've thought that Orlando Pirates is a Nigerian team due to the amount of support they got from the locals. What would you expect when they field a proud son of the soil in Olisa Ndah.
Their journey to this climax was navigated through a home and away format from the group stages to the knockout phase, and eventually the final. Orlando Pirates navigated through a group including Al Ittihad, JS Saoura, and group whipping boys, Royal Leopards. Pirates finished as group winners with 13 points followed by Al Ittihad with 11 points, JS Soura with 10 and Leopards with 0 points. This indicated the competitive nature of the group.
RS Berkane also emerged winners of their group (group D), amassing 10 points from 6 games followed by Simba with same 10 points, ASEC Mimosas with 9 points and group bottom boys USGN with 5 points. Berkane won the group based on goals difference and on paper at this point wouldn't have been seen as serious contenders.
At the quarter finals stage, Pirates were paired against Simba, while Berkane sought to overcome Al Masry. Pirates lost the first leg 1-0 in Dar es Salaam. They however overturned the tie in the second leg in South Africa, winning 2-0 to progress to the semis. Berkane also lost their first leg in Egypt 2-1 to Al Masry and eventually won 1-0 at home to progress to the semis on away goal rule. All through the tournament Berkane seemed to be struggling away from home with their best result away being a 2-2 draw against USGN in the group stages, unlike Pirates who didn't seem too fazed by playing away from home.
Pirates blitzed away Al-ahly Tripoli 0-2 away from home, taking a strong 2 away goal cushion into the second. I guess the overconfidence from that result was the reason they ended up losing the second leg at home 0-1. The result wasn't enough for Al-ahly though as Pirates qualified for the final winning 2-1 on aggregate.
Berkane in their usual fashion lost their first leg away from home 1-0 to TP Mazembe in Lububashi. This they made up for in the return leg, destroying Mazembe 4-1 and winning 5-2 on aggregate to move on to the final. The team that looked like they couldn't hurt a fly anytime they left their comfort zone were now on the cusp of glory.
Cup finals are some of the most difficult matches to predict because any little mistake - even by the favoilurites - and you've lost the match. All through the tournament, Pirates were clearly the better team with respect to results and the quality of football on display. Add the fact that many African football followers and lovers are much more familiar with the south African giants against the barely known Moroccans, and the fact that Pirates parades one of the of the cherished sons of the host city and one wouldn't be wrong to see them as favourites.
The match started in typical cup final fashion, with both sides being cautious, with none of them willing to throw everything at each other. The story remained the same throughout the first half with chances few and far in-between. None of them could really exert influence and authority over the other. It wasn't till the second half when the match really opened up with both sides beginning to take more risks and be more adventurous, but then the quality in the final balls was lacking.
The game eventually opened up when Berkane drew fist blood in the 97th minute of extra time (through a penalty) after both teams failed to find the net in regulation time.
Pirates needed to react or the enormous support they were getting from the locals would've been wasted. They eventually responded in the 117th minute through the man of the match, Lorch, to much applause from the fans.
The game teetered off for the remaining minutes with both teams unable to find the back of the net again. Penalties ensued and both teams converted their first penalties. In the second round of penalties Lorch went from hero to villain and missed his team's second kick. This would end up being the only missed penalty in the shootout, thereby handing the title to the Moroccan side to win their second CAF Confederations Cup in 3 years after winning the title in 2020.
Congratulations to RS Berkane, the 2022 CAF Confederations Cup winners.
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