By Robson Sharuko
HARARE- JUST a week after South African billionaire Patrice Motsepe’s Mamelodi Sundowns turned themselves into African football champions, wealthy Congolese multi-millionaire Moise Katumbi’s team, TP Mazembe, thrust themselves into a very good position to win the CAF Confederation Cup last weekend.
Sundowns – bankrolled by the money of one of Africa’s richest businessmen – turned themselves into the toast of South African football after they defied the odds to win their first CAF Champions League trophy following a 3-1 aggregate victory over five-time African champions Zamalek of Egypt.
Now, another football club bankrolled by the wealth of a Congolese multi-millionaire, TP Mazembe, who has been African champions five times, including three times in the past seven years, are on the brink of winning the CAF Confederation Cup after they held Algerian side Mouloudia Bejaia 1-1 in the first leg of the final in Algeria.
Should TP Mazembe hold on to their advantage, by at least battling to a goalless draw in Lubumbashi in the second leg this Sunday, they will not only win the CAF Confederation Cup, for the first time, but ensure that the two inter-club tournaments on the continent have been won by football clubs from the Southern African Development Community for the first time in history.
Given that these tournaments have, for a long time, been dominated by clubs from Northern and Western Africa, some commentators in SADC are beginning to believe this could represent a monumental shift in the balance of power in club football on the continent.
SADC had two clubs in the CAF Champions League semi-finals this year with Sundowns and Zambian giants Zesco United representing the region and, probably, if they had not clashed in the last four, they would probably have set up an all-SADC final showdown.
Congolese striker Jonathan Bilingi scored his fourth goal of the campaign after converting a late first half penalty to give TP Mazembe, who won the old Cup of Cup Winners once in 1980, the lead before Bejaia skipper, Faouzi Yaya, fired home the equaliser from a free-kick to leave the tie delicately poised but with Mazembe having the advantage.
Mazembe and Bejaia were in the same group, just like Sundowns and Zamalek in the Champions League, during the group phase of the tournament with the Congolese side holding their rivals to a goalless draw in Algeria and then winning 1-0 in Lubumbashi to top their group by a country mile.
Zambian captain Rainford Kalaba is the leading goal-scorer in the CAF Confederation Cup with six goals while Zimbabwe’s Raphael Manuvire, whose Harare City side crashed out in the early rounds, has three goals.
While Mazembe fielded three Zambians, two Ivorians and two Malians in their team in the first leg of the Confederation Cup, their opponents Bejaia started with a team dominated by home players with nine Algerian nationals and two foreigners, Mali’s Soumaila Sidibe and Chad international Morgan Betorangal.
Mazembe coach Hubert Velud saluted his side for their discipline against a strong Bejaia side.
“We had a good operation because it must be emphasized that the MOB played strongly until the end,” he said in comments carried on the Mazembe official website.
“In the second half, we made some unusual defensive errors but, again, this is due to the value of the MOB who played a great game.
“The second leg will be another match, certainly. But it is certain we will have to play very well to manage their potential counter-attacks that can be very rapid. From our side, it will be important to play a great game and, if possible, score quickly.
“We came to Algeria with the hopes for a good result. The draw itself is a good thing but we have to be careful. I was very impressed with the play of our opponents. They often put us in dangerous situations and could have won. We will work on our recovery in the coming days.
“The stakes are high.”
Bejaia coach, Nasser Sandjak, said his team, playing in Africa’s inter-club competitions for the first time, did well against a club that had the pedigree of Mazembe.
“We knew at the start that it was going to be difficult because, in front of us, we were playing the winners of the Champions League,” Sandjak said in comments carried on the official CAF website.
“TP Mazembe don’t need any introduction in Africa. This is a great team that has dominated African football in recent years. But we did our best. I want to say that we still keep our chances (alive) in the second leg.
“I want to thank my players who played a great game. They did their best and I do not blame them for missing the victory. We had many opportunities to kill off the game, especially in the second half, but that will not discourage us.
“When I look back on our journey, and the path we have had to travel to be in the final, it motivates me and it is even more reassuring. We went to Morocco to get qualification (for the final) when many thought we were going to miss it.
“That is why I say that MOB has always met the challenges in the most difficult of times. I hope we will win this Cup.”
TP Mazembe have won the CAF Super Cup three times in the past six years in 2010, 2011 and 2016 during a period in which they have transformed themselves into the dominant football club on the continent, thanks to the millions which Katumbi has poured into the team giving it the financial muscle to lure foreign players from all over Africa.
The club has its state-of-the-art stadium, usually full to capacity on match day, and its own two long haul transport planes.