Raja Edge Out Hosts In A Bad-Tempered Affair
Red cards outnumbered goals as a bad tempered match saw Moroccan side Raja Casablanca edge out hosts Aspire Academy in the second match of the tournament.
With Qatar’s memorable victory over Japan to lift the Asia Cup still fresh in the minds, hopes were high of another Qatari success. That first Asia Cup win had been achieved with valuable contributions from former Aspire Academy graduates but the feel- good factor disappeared as Raja proved the better of the two teams.
Just as in Abu Dhabi three days earlier, VAR played a major role in the outcome, but this time it was not in favor of the Qataris. A late penalty awarded for handball with the assistance of VAR had led to Qatar’s third goal against the Japanese but on this occasion a similar decision led to the only goal of the game.
Minutes before Oussama Zemraoui’s successful spot-kick, referee Umpierrez of Uruguay had ruled out a Raja goal for offside after Chiboub Abdennabi found the net. In the end, it didn’t matter as Aspire lost their discipline in the second half as they ended the game with six yellow cards, two of which became reds.
The game was physical from the start but both sides created opportunities. Raja displayed plenty of skill and Zemraoui put Abdennabi through on goal only for his effort to be blocked by the determined hosts. Mekki Tombari had Aspire’s best chance of the opening half, but his on-target effort was blocked by Yahya Laamech and went out for a corner.
The hosts appealed for a spot-kick 10 minutes before the break when skipper Mostafa Kadira went down in the box after being caught by goalkeeper Yassine Zoubir, but the referee was unimpressed.
The game sprang to life on 37 minutes when Raja midfielder Anas Mtitach sent in a low drive from just outside the penalty area and Balideh could only parry the ball into the path of Abdennabi who was quicker to respond than Aiash and fired home. Raja’s celebrations were cut short though as the referee ruled the effort out for offside after consulting the TV screen.
Aspire’s reprieve was short-lived however as on the stroke of half-time the ball was launched high into the box and Aiash’s efforts to nod the ball back to his keeper saw the ball brush off his head before hitting his hand, and this time VAR went against the Qataris.
Zemraoui made no mistake from the spot to give the Raja a half-time lead, much to the delight of their sizeable and vocal support.
The early stages of the second half saw Abdennabi fire over twice in a matter of seconds, and Aspire then went close when substitute Mohammad Alsukhun neatly backheeled in the box to find Alhadhrami but his left-foot effort was blocked.
Aspire’s hopes were then dealt a blow as Aiash caught Raja substitute Elhoussine Rahimi and despite protesting that he had played the ball he was shown a second yellow card.
Aspire refused to give in though and Tombari forced a one-handed save from the keeper as they pressed for an equalizer. Kadira then won and took a free-kick after being caught high – leading to a yellow card for match- winner Zemraoui – but the skipper’s resulting effort went over the bar.
Kadira became the second Aspire player to see red when his reckless challenge on El Khalfy led to him being sent off, having been booked earlier.
That left Aspire’s hopes in tatters and Raja comfortably held on for a deserved victory.