TP Mazembe walking on the path to greatness
IF Egyptian giants Al Ahly were Africa’s Club of the 20th Century, Congolese powerhouse, TP Mazembe, are battling them toe-to-toe in the early fight for the continent’s Club of the 21st Century and the Lubumbashi side are now on the verge of a fifth continental club crown.
Al Ahly, the continent’s greatest football club in history, were named Africa’s Club of the 20th Century on the back of two African Cup of Club Championship titles in 1982 and 1987, and four African Cup of Cup Winners titles in 1984, 1985, 1986 and 1993.
Since then the powerful Egyptian giants have won the Champions League five times in 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2013, completing an impressive haul of seven titles as kings of African football, a record that has given them pride of place on the continent.
Al Ahly have also been third in the FIFA Club World Cup and finished fourth in the same tournament twice.
Congolese heavyweights, TP Mazembe, have won the African club championship four times, in 1967 and 1968, during a golden era for Congolese football, and in 2009 and 2010, after the financial muscle of Moise Katumbi transformed them into a very powerful force.
TP Mazembe have reached the dizzy heights of even finishing as runners-up in the FIFA Club World Cup in 2010 and, unless something goes horribly wrong in the second leg of this year’s CAF Champions League final, they will win a fifth crown as champions of African football.
The Lubumbashi giants took a 2-1 lead from the first leg of this year’s Champions League final, beating USM Alger of Algeria 2-1 in their backyard last weekend, and they are odds-on favourites to win the title when they host the second leg in their fortress this weekend.
It was TP Mazembe’s first victory in Algeria.
Zambian international Rainford Kalaba was on target for TP Mazembe, but was sent off later in the game, while Tanzanian forward, Mbwana Samatta, scored from the penalty spot, having missed another spot kick earlier in the game, for the big win.
Mohamed Seguer kept USM Alger in the game by scoring the Algerians’ goal.
USM Alger coach Hamdi Miloud had rallied his men, ahead of the first leg, saying that his troops were ready for the showdown against the Congolese giants.
“We have prepared for this rendezvous.
Certainly our opponents are favourites to clinch the title because of their rich experience at this level of the competition, but my players hold no fears and will look to take their chances,” he told the Algerian media.
“But even with a decent lead in the first leg, it will not be easy in Lubumbashi. USM Alger are just 180 minutes away from creating history. We’ll be representing Algeria and all of North Africa. We’ll do everything in our power to ensure that an Algerian name appears on the trophy for the second year running.”
Samatta, who has attracted interest from a number of European clubs, has now scored seven goals in this year’s Champions League, including a double that knocked out Al Merrikh of Sudan in the semi-finals as TP Mazembe won 3-0 at home to overturn a 1-2 first leg deficit.
“It (reaching the Club World Cup) would be incredible,” Samatta told FIFA.com.
“It would be the reward for a lot of hard work, but above all a huge source of pride for me and the club. It would also be historic for Tanzania.
“Algerian football is quite simply the best there is in Africa at the moment. There are clearly reasons to fear them.”
TP Mazembe is a continental powerhouse with some of the best players from the DRC, Zambia, Tanzania and have now even wooed Ghanaians with five players from the West African football giants now on their payroll.
One of those Ghanaians, Nii Adjei, said there was a lot of pressure on the team to perform in Africa’s premier inter-club competition.
“We were so determined to get this result to make sure we were relieved off the pressure when we go back home,” he told GHANAsoccernet.com.
“There is so much pressure on us the players when we play at home due to the huge expectations of the fans.
“We want to ease this pressure and ultimately get the win and that is how we strived for the win.
“There are also a lot of players in the side that have not tasted glory in the Champions League than those who have so we are very motivated to get this cup.”
Thousands of TP Mazembe fans welcomed TP Mazembe back home to Lubumbashi with Katumbi surprising his team by boarding their plane, an MD83, for the flight to Congo and even sitting in the economy class where he shared a seat with Adama Traore.
“Thanks #RDC, the population for the support for the players and all your prayers,” Katumbi tweeted.
However, his coach Patrice Carteron, a Frenchman who was signed in May 2013 and who used to play for St Ettiene and Sunderland as a defender, is not getting carried away after leading his men to the big victory in Algeria and a step closer to winning the Champions League.
“I am sure that in a week’s time, USM Alger will be a very dangerous team because their players have nothing to lose,” said the coach.