Wydad relishing reprieve and return to big time

By Hakim GhazaouiBBC Sport, Casablanca
Wydad's Congo striker Fabrice Ondama
Congo international striker Fabrice Ondama is Wydad Casablanca's star man

On the streets of Casablanca, thousands of supporters are voicing the same enthusiastic cry - 'Wydad are back!'

After a number of setbacks, the Moroccan side's showing in this year's African Champions League has shown that the club is recovering its strength.

Wydad's progress to the semi-finals is the furthest the club has gone since winning the African title back in 1992.

Back then, a side boasting defenders Noureddine Naybet, Rachid Daoudi and Senegalese striker Moussa Ndaw - and nicknamed the Dream Team - defeated Sudan's Al Hilal in the final.

Nearly two decades on, the club founded in 1937 has another date with history as Swiss coach Michel Decastel's side takes on two-time Nigerian champions Enyimba.

On Saturday, the 2003 and 2004 African winners will discover one of Wydad's strengths - the key role played by supporters inside their stadium.

Nearly 60,000 spectators are expected inside the Mohamed V stadium, where the home support has been praised as decisive by Decastel.

Of course, it's not just the home fans who make a difference.

The president of Wydad is Abdelillah Akram, who is also the vice-president of the Royal Moroccan Football Federation.

This highly-ambitious man - who made his fortune through a travel agency - has been prepared to invest a lot of money in securing some top stars.

Wydad Casablanca coach Michel Decastel
Wydad coach Michel Decastel won the 2007 Confederation Cup with Sfaxien

This summer, four outstanding players joined the club - namely, forward Youssef Keddioui (Al Ittihad), midfielder Yassine Lekhel (Tetuan) and defenders Hicham Lamrani (Tetuan) and Yassine Rami (Agadir).

However, none have yet deposed Fabrice Ondama as the star of the squad.

The skilful Congo international has great pace and his ability to score goals in all situations makes him a real nightmare for defenders.

His partnership with former Atlas Lion Mohcine Iajour is one of the secrets of Wydad's success this year - with five goals apiece in the Champions League.

At the back, international goalkeeper Nadir Lemyaghri is the captain of the Wydad, who has saved his side on many occasions and enjoys great standing among his fellow team-mates.

However, while the president, the players and the fans can all be credited with success, none of this would have been possible without the aid of Tunisia's Esperance.

For the Tunis club informed Wydad that African champions TP Mazembe had fielded an ineligible player when beating the Moroccans in the third round.

Esperance believe the player in question, Janvier Besala Bokungu, broke his contract with them when joining Mazembe earlier this year.

Ultimately, the Confederation of African Football found Mazembe guilty, so disqualifying the Congolese from the competition and handing Wydad a reprieve which they have not wasted.

They beat Mazembe's second round victims, Simba of Tanzania, in a play-off to determine who made the group stages.

And thanks to proving hard to beat in the group stages - losing just one of six games - Wydad are in line to win the competition for the first time since it became the Champions League back in 1997.

That same year, Wydad's city rivals Raja won the second of their three African club crowns - meaning this year's tournament presents the 'Red and Whites' with a chance to get closer to their rivals.