African finalists eye chance to take on Barça
JOHANNESBURG: Democratic Republic of Congo club Tout Puissant Mazembe are set to become African champions today 41 years after last conquering the continent.
None of the team seeking to overcome a 2-1 first-leg deficit against Nigerian visitors Heartland in Lubumbashi were born when the Congolese ‘ Crows’ beat Togolese team Etoile Filante 6-4 on aggregate to retain the trophy.
Then known as TP Englebert, the club formed 70 years ago by Benedictine monks became the first to successfully defend the African title and the record was not equalled until 2004 when Enyimba of Nigeria repeated the feat.
Mazembe have been regular African campaigners since, but the closest they came to completing a title hat-trick was in 2002 when falling to eventual winners Zamalek of Egypt in the semi-finals.
French coach Diego Garzitto, hired this year as part of a $5-million plan to rule Africa, believes home support can lead his side to glory at the 35,000-seat Kenya Stadium in the southern mining city.
“We have everything to play for in the return match and with our supporters behind us we should be able to triumph at home,” he said, eyeing a record $1.5m first prize.
Mazembe also have the psychological advantage of having already beaten Heartland 2-0 at home in the group phase of the competition via second-half goals from midfielders Mabi Mputu and Dioko Kaluyituka.
Heartland from the south-east city of Owerri are hoping to avoid a repeat of 1988 final when the club was known as Iwuanyanwu Nationale and they slumped 4-0 away to Algerian opponents Entente Setif.
Despite a Mazembe record of only three home losses in 47 African matches, Nigerian coach Kelechi Emetole believes the ‘Naze Millionaires’ can go all the way.
King Osanga, scorer of the Heartland equaliser last weekend, is equally upbeat: “No matter what anyone says we hold the advantage at the moment and I hope to score again in the return leg.”
An added incentive for the clubs is a place in the end-of-year Fifa Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates and a possible match-up with European champions Barcelona. – Sapa-AFP