In an unexpected turn of events, Raja Casablanca is in the 2013 FIFA Club WC Finals, taking on the champions of Europe in what will decide the champions of the world.
Do the Moroccans deserve to be there though? Unlike their international counterparts, they did not qualify for the competition by winning their confederation's club championship. That crown still belongs to Al Ahli, the Egyptian club who has won the Confederation of African Football Champions League eight times.
Morocco has bid for the FIFA World Cup four times over the past twenty years (1994, 1998, 2006, 2010) and are the only country with at least four World Cup bids not to get the tournament. Perhaps the Club World Cup is the country's consolation prize, and its reward is a club in the finals.
The whole cloud surrounding Raja Casablanca is the penalty Spanish referee Carlos Velasco awarded on a blatant Mouhssine Iajour dive in the 80th minute. To the Green Eagles' credit, they did hold Atlético Minero to one goal on an indefensible Ronaldinho free kick, and did beat Auckland City and Monterrey fair and square.
In a competition full of turmoil, it will be up to FC Bayern München to restore order in the footballing universe.
Location: Marrakech Stadium, Marrakech, Morocco
Time converter at worldtimebuddy.com
Television and Streaming
USA: Fox Sports 2
Germany: ARD Das Erste | HD, ARD Broadband
FC Bayern: WWLWW
With a fifth trophy in its headlights, the FC Bayern Bus will drive on with all the best parts. Pep Guardiola elected for a solid starting side against Guangzhou Evergrande FC – perhaps Dante was the only missing piece – then brought on three strong substitutes to close out the 3-0 victory.
Perhaps preparation might be a little different, considering Atlético Minero was the assumed opponent, but the tactics will likely be similar as the semifinal: control the ball and the pace and stop the counterattack, even if Manuel Neuer has to come way off his line to do so.
What the Bayern faithful might see on Saturday is Guardiola's best XI – well, maybe better known as the best available XI – something that is still a mystery after all the injuries and squad rotations. This match is the last official competition for five weeks, when FC Bayern commence the Rückrunde in the Bundesliga. Given the chatter of how serious the treble champions are taking the Club World Cup, there is no reason for Guardiola to put any of his healthy players aside.
How will the Best XI look? Is Philipp Lahm the right back, with Thiago Alcantara lying deep and Toni Kroos and Mario Götze in the center of the park? Is Rafinha playing full back and Lahm as a holding midfielder? The riddle of rotation might reach a resolution, at least with the weapons Guardiola has at his disposal.
It will be a fun exercise for the formation dreamers to ponder.
Projected Lineup (4-1-4-1)
Ribery – Kroos – Götze – Müller
Alaba – Dante – Boateng – Lahm
Bench: Starke, Raeder, Contento, van Buyten, Kirchhoff, Rafinha, Martínez, Højbjerg, Shaqiri, Weiser, Green, Pizarro
Even if the football public do not believe the club deserves to be in the final, Raja Casablanca made it, upsetting a few opponents along the way.
Iajour has proven to be the key player in the side, scoring twice and causing fits at the top with his pace. He will likely to play the role that Elkeson played for Guangzhou Evergrande FC, a high work-rate, high pressure forward that breaks forward on a counter attack.
Unlike the lesser sides in this competition, Casablanca has held on to the ball pretty well. The Moroccan's match against Auckland was end to end, and while they did concede 26 shots against Monterrey, the defense held strong enough to keep the ball out of the back of the net.
As Tim Vickery wrote for ESPN FC, the Green Eagles took advantage of the complacent defense of Atlético Minero, especially on the wings. It will be interesting if/how the attack will come about considering FC Bayern held 73 percent possession in the other semifinal.
The back line is nothing special, exemplified by Mohamed Oulhaj and Ismail Belmaalem collided in the qualifying match against Auckland City to Roy Kirshna an open path to goal. If Faouzi Benzarti sits behind the ball, the defense will be tough to break down, especially considering the Galo struggled to equalize despite their individual skill.
Benzarti has not changed his XI thus far, so no doubt he will keep his players in for the final.
Projected XI (4-4-1-1)
Hafidi – Guéhl – Raki – Chtibi
Karrouchy – Ouhaj – Belmaalem – El Hachimi
Bench: El Had, Zaari, Rahmani, Soulaimani, Coulibaly, Kanda, Mabide, Kouchame, Dardouri, Erraki, Dine, Kachani, Salhi
The last non-European or South American team to reach the Club World Cup final is Congolese club Tout Puissant Mazembe in 2010. It wound up losing to Inter 3-0, under the guidance of Rafael Benitez. No non-European or South American club has ever won the final. As long as nobody on FC Bayern gets his eyeball fried like an egg from the laser pointers, the European champions should be successful, collecting their fifth trophy in 2013.
Projected Score: FC Bayern München 4-0 Raja Casablanca