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HomeAfrican FootballJZ On Leverkusen Comparisons As History Beckons In Morocco

JZ On Leverkusen Comparisons As History Beckons In Morocco

Raja Athletic Club head coach Josef Zinnbauer has brushed off comparisons with Bayer Leverkusen with the club on the brink of an invincible Botola Pro winning season.

The German tactician has defied all odds with Raja this season after they failed to qualify for CAF inter-club football last season to being one game from their first league title in four years.

Having arrived with the club in disarray and in financial difficulties, the club set the German a target of a third-place finish and qualification for the CAF Confederation Cup and while they appeared on target for most of the season with ASFAR seemingly running away to retain their title, the unthinkable occurred.

Raja scored a 92nd-minute free-kick to beat Wydad Athletic Club 1-0 in the Casablanca Derby as ASFAR drew 2-2 against Moghreb Atlético Tetuán, which moved Raja one point ahead going into the season finale, the first time they led the table this season in 29 matchdays.

“We can’t compare ourselves with Leverkusen, we need to settle down, no celebrating, it’s football, we know what’s happened in football and what can happen,” he said.

“We have to focus on ourselves, it’s going to be a difficult game [against MC Oujda] who need points [to survive relegation], they need it more maybe than us. But the players have to understand, that if they want to be champions, they have to win the last game [of the season].

“So this is the thing, if the players are focused and manage the game, they can say I will be a champion, then at the end of the day, it’s a season for us, where we can win the title – I’m honest, this player deserves the title, the supporters deserve the title. It’s been hard work this season, nobody believed in us.

“Now all the board is happy, if we speak about the target we had when we started this season was third place, maybe second if we have luck – so now we can speak about first place but it’s going to be a really long 90 minutes. This is what we have to do, work for this 90 minutes, three points, it’s in our hands now.”

Zinnbauer has emerged as a real fan favourite this season, immersing himself in the club culture and endearing himself to the supporters with subtle gestures like printing out a Raja shirt with his name on it within his suit.

And reflecting on the derby win, he admits he was never in doubt with the self-belief his side has, who are in the semi-final of the Throne Cup, meaning they are unbeaten in the entire 2023/24 domestic campaign.

They are also favourites going into the final day as they face 15th-place MC Oudja in the 16-team league, who need a win to retain their top-flight status, while ASFAR, led by Nasreddine Nabi have a Rabat derby against fourth-placed Fath Union Sport.

“First it was a good result, the first half was very good, no goals… second half was difficult for us to play, especially the final pass, the final shot,” he said after the game.

“But we spoke about it in the dressing room to be quiet, be patient, wait for the right moments and then we have quality with free-kicks, Sabir [Bougrine] with a [great] final pass, we knew we had the quality to win this game.

“So it was a top experience [in the Casablanca Derby], difficult game but the team always believed [we could score] and get the result to win three points.”

Raja’s last match of the season against Ouda will be played on Thursday, June 13, at the Honneur Stadium.

Lorenz Kohler
Lorenz Kohler
Lorenz Köhler is an award-winning South African football journalist. Having cut his teeth in the industry working at Kick-Off Magazine, he is now iDiski Times' senior digital content writer. He specialises in breaking top African football stories and transfers with a major focus on the 'big-three' Mamelodi Sundowns, Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates and CAF inter-club and international competitions. In 2021 he was listed amongst the top-five journalists under 30 in Print Media for the AIPS Awards.