Juan Carlos Garrido is closing in on becoming the first coach to win the CAF Confederation Cup with two clubs as his Raja Casablanca prepare for Sunday’s first leg of the final.
The Spaniard’s Moroccan side host the first leg of the final against V Club of the Democratic Republic of Congo with the return match seven days later.
The Casablanca club are slight favourites to win a sixth African title despite drawing 0-0 at home and losing 2-0 away to the Kinshasa outfit in the group stage.
Valencia-born Garrido, 49, guided Al Ahly of Egypt to success in the second-tier CAF club competition — the African equivalent of the UEFA Europa League — four years ago.
He also won the 2014 Egyptian Super Cup for the Cairo Red Devils, but was sacked the following year and worked with a Saudi Arabian club before being hired by Raja last year.
Garrido soon added the Throne Cup (Moroccan FA Cup) to his list of accomplishments, but drew a blank domestically this year, putting extra pressure on him to win in Africa.
Raja are the seventh most successful CAF club, winning the Champions League three times and both the Super Cup and the now defunct CAF Cup once.
But it has been 15 seasons since they last experienced African success, winning the last final of the CAF Cup under French coach Henri Michael, who died last April.
All five CAF titles won by the Raja have been under foreigners, with Argentine Oscar Fullone (twice), Bosnian Vahid Halilhodzic and Algerian Rabah Saadane the other successful coaches.
V Club achieved African glory for the only time 45 years ago, defeating Asante Kotoko of Ghana in the African Cup of Champions Clubs (now Champions
League) title decider.
– Rarity –
They came closest to a second continental triumph four years ago when losing on away goals to Entente Setif of Algeria in the Champions League final.
Congolese Florent Ibenge is a rarity in world football as he coaches a club and the national team, who are ranked fourth in Africa and 46th in the world.
V Club are hoping to keep the trophy in DR Congo for the third year after arch domestic rivals TP Mazembe won the 2016 and 2017 finals.
Tunisia holds the Confederation Cup record with three consecutive titles between 2006 and 2008 thanks to Etoile Sahel (one) and CS Sfaxien (two).
Raja and V Club possess potential match-winners in Mahmoud Benhalib and Jean-Marc Makusu Mundele, the leading scorers in the Confederation Cup this season.
Benhalib has netted 11 times but has not hit the target in the three matches since snatching the winner away to CARA of Congo Brazzaville in the first leg of their quarter-final.
Makusu Mundele struck four in an away playoff triumph over La Mancha of Congo Brazzaville and has been claiming goals consistently since for a total of 10.
Among his goals was the second in the home win over Raja three months ago, the lone loss suffered by the Moroccans in 14 matches, 10 of which they won.
An oddity is V Club travelling to Morocco four times this year for CAF matches — a club would ordinarily not visit the same country more than twice in a campaign.
They lost to Difaa el Jadida in the Champions League and, after being demoted to the Confederation Cup, drew with Raja, and with Renaissance Berkane in a quarter-final first leg.
Whichever club emerges victorious will be $1.25 million (1.1 million euros) richer while the runners-up receive $625,000.