Wydad Casablanca's CAF Champions League win a boost for Moroccan football
Wydad Casablanca's deserved victory in this year's CAF Champions League has ended a long wait for club and country, and possibly points to resurgence in Moroccan football that could see them become a dominant force on the continent again.
Wydad defeated Egyptian giants Al Ahly 2-1 on aggregate in the final, ensuring the Cairo club didn't extend their record of eight Champions League victories.
For Wydad it is a first title in Africa's elite club competition in 25 years, while they are the first Moroccan side to lift the title this century, with previous winners Raja Casablanca hoisting the trophy in 1999.
For a country with a proud record in the competition it has been a long, agonising wait, with a number of near misses in the recent past.
Wydad were themselves losing finalists in 2011 when they went down to Tunisian side Esperance, while Raja lost out to Zamalek in 2002.
However, only Egypt (14) have now produced more wins in the Champions League competition, with Morocco's sixth victory leaving them joint second on the list with the Democratic Republic of Congo.
This success, coupled with Morocco's potential qualification for the World Cup for the first time since 1998 suggests the country's football is on the rise again after some years in the doldrums.
Morocco, led by coach Herve Renard, need a draw in their final qualifier away to the Ivory Coast on Saturday to book their passage to Russia.
Renard, who led the Ivorians to African Nations Cup glory in 2015, will know everything there is to know about his opponents, and will be quietly confident of getting the desired result with Morocco yet to concede a single goal after five qualification matches to date.
Wydad's victory in this year's Champions League was a triumph for organisation and, like many in the past, relied heavily on home advantage.
The club won just one of their seven matches on the road, at Cameroon club Coton Sport in the pool stages, and only netted three goals in that time.
However, it was the complete opposite when at their Casablanca home, where they were imperious, winning all seven games with just a single goal conceded.
They beat Ahly twice at home in the campaign and also knocked out defending champions Mamelodi Sundowns from South Africa, as well as securing a handsome 3-1 victory over Algerian side USM Alger.
Their campaign almost faltered at the first hurdle when they needed penalties to beat Gabon side CF Mounana in the first round, but grew in strength as the tournament progressed.
It will ensure a rich pay-day for the side, who win a record $2.5 million for lifting the trophy and are guaranteed at least another $1 million for their participation in the FIFA Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates from Dec. 6-16.
They will face Mexican side Pachuca in the quarter finals on Dec. 9, with the winners to advance to meet the Copa Libertadores champions from South America - either Brazilian side Gremio or Lanus from Argentina.