DOHA, Qatar, Mar 28 – A 20,000-seat stadium in Qatar capital Doha will be the unlikely setting Friday for the CAF Super Cup showdown between Esperance of Tunisia and Raja Casablanca of Morocco.
The annual one-off match pits the winners of the CAF Champions League and second-tier CAF Confederation Cup against each other and has been staged in Africa since its 1993 debut.
But CAF, the Cairo-based governing body of African football, announced last year that the match would be hosted by Doha without offering an explanation.
Qatar will stage the 2022 World Cup — the first Middle East nation awarded the rights to host the biggest single-sport global tournament.
The small nation with huge oil and gas reserves will go into the World Cup as Asian champions having defeated Japan 3-1 in the final in Abu Dhabi last month.
Qatar Football Association officials are hopeful of a big crowd for the Super Cup match, noting in a statement that Esperance and Raja have large followings in the Gulf state.
Esperance and Raja are among the giants of African football, winning six CAF titles apiece, including the most prestigious, the Champions League, three times each.
A dramatic second leg comeback in the 2018 Champions League final brought glory to Esperance as they trounced Al Ahly of Egypt 3-0 having trailed by two goals after the first leg.
Saad Bguir was the two-goal star of the return match in Tunisia, but in Doha he may have to settle for a place on the bench, as he has done in recent Champions League matches.
Like virtually all successful African clubs, Esperance rely on a mix of local and foreign talent to ensure a steady flow of titles.
Apart from numerous Tunisian stars, coach Moine Chaabani can call on Cameroonian Franck Kom, Ivorian Fousseny Coulibaly, Algerian Youcef Belaili and Libyan Hamdou Elhouni.
Esperance travelled to Doha in good form after completing the group stage of their Champions League title defence unbeaten having won four matches and drawn two.
Raja have been less successful lately, failing to qualify for the quarter-finals of the Confederation Cup they won so impressively last season.
The Casablanca outfit won only one of six group matches, and the 4-1 thrashing of AS Otoho Oyo in Congo Brazzaville came too late to salvage a disappointing mini-league campaign.
A team coached by Frenchman Patrice Carteron lie third in the domestic league, but are 17 points adrift of bitter rivala Wydad Casablanca entering the final third of the season.
Although Tunisia and Moroccan clubs are among the strongest in Africa, neither country has been particularly successful in the Super Cup.
Tunisian clubs have won three matches and lost eight and those from Morocco have also triumphed three times while failing five times.
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