TP Mazembe have become the second-most successful club in the history of the CAF Champions League after a 2-0 victory secured them a fifth African title with a 4-1 aggregate victory against USM Alger. Only Cairo's Al Ahly have won the event more times, and likewise Egypt is now the only nation to have won more continental trophies than Congo DR, who have six. Les Corbeaux also earn the right to represent the continent at the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan at the end of the year.
USMA were the second Algerian club in as many years to reach the final after ES Setif won the event last year. The North African country is no doubt disappointed after having three teams in the group stage, while similarly Sudanese supporters were left ruing their luck after both Al Hilal and Al Merreikh reached the semi-finals only to be knocked out.
Once Al Ahly were sensationally knocked out by Moroccan club Moghreb Tetouan, TP Mazembe were the highest profile side left in the event, yet they had to overcome a first leg defeat in South Africa to Mamelodi Sundowns in the first round. They also failed to inspire in the next round against Stade Malien as well as at the start of the group phase. A 2-0 victory in Egypt against rookies Smouha in July turned the tide, and a 5-0 thumping of Tetouan in a must-win match catapulted the team into the business end of the tournament. Tanzanian international Mbwana Samatta was the form man in a team of top-class imports led by former Mali coach Patrice Carteron. Samatta, his compatriot Thomas Ulimwengu and Côte d'Ivoire's Solomon Assale scored in a 4-2 aggregate victory over Al Merreikh in the semi-final, while two more by Samatta, another Assale strike and one by Zambia's Rainford Kalaba were enough to win the two-legged final.
Samatta, with seven goals, was co-top scorer in the Champions League with Al Merreikh's Bakri Al Madina, but Mazembe's strengths are not all in attack. Goalkeeper Robert Kidiaba seems to simply get better with age, and the veteran became one of three Mazembe players to win their third title (although Given Singulula and Jean Kasusula failed to get off the bench in the final). Kidiaba was the last man in a defence that leaked just seven goals in 13 matches – the least any winner has conceded since 2011. Upfront, Les Corbeaux had the so-called ULISATA dream attack, comprising of Ulimwengu, Samatta and Alain Traore.
Carteron's final counterpart Miloud Hamdi lost his best striker Youcef Belaili toward the end of the competition after the Algeria international was given a lengthy doping ban. Hamdi also had to play the first leg of the final without defender Mohamed Meftah and Malagasy striker Carolus Andriamatsinoro, who both played an important role in getting the team to the championship match. Other players who impressed were Mouhcine Iajour, who scored six goals for Moroccan club Moghreb Tetouan, but left the club after the first group game, as well as Raja Casablanca's Nigerian striker Christian Osaguona. Al Hilal's Cameroon goalkeeper Loic Feudjou and defenders Athir Gaber and Saif Farah marshalled a defence that was beaten just seven times in their 14 matches.
Al Hilal have made the group stage six times in the last eight years – advancing to the semi-finals on four of those occasions. They were joined in the last four this time around by Omdurman rivals Al Merreikh, whose previous best performances in the competition were in 1975 when they reached the quarter-final and in 2009 when they reached the group stage. Rookies El Eulma from Algeria and Egypt's Smouha made it to the group stage at their first tournaments. Although both finished bottom of their groups, they can look back with pride at their campaign.
31 –TP Mazembe's 2-0 victory on the weekend against USMA extended their unbeaten run at home in the Champions League to 31 matches. They have won 27 games, drawing four and winning three titles during the run. The last visitors to win there were Al Hilal, who won 2-0 in Lubumbashi in 2009, but had earlier lost the first leg of the semi-final 5-2 in Omdurman.
What they said
“I think this victory is deserved. We especially played a great match in Algiers. In the return, we were nervous and tense, despite the advantage in the first leg and the fact of playing at home. It will take a few days before I realise the significance of this victory, but we get back to work quickly because we have league games and the Club World Cup in Japan to prepare for,” Mazembe coach Patrice Carteron.
Did you know?
TP Mazembe was the first non-European or South American club to reach the final at the FIFA Club World Cup. The Congo DR club managed the feat in 2010, where they lost to Inter Milan. Three years later Raja Casablanca also made it into the final.