When USM Alger take on TP Mazembe in the first leg of the CAF Champions League final on Saturday in the Omar Hamadi Stadium in Algiers, the contrast between the two clubs could hardly be greater.
On the one hand, you have the home side: a team consisting almost exclusively of local players, the vast majority of whom are inexperienced in playing in a match at this level. The club itself has never made it to an African final before.
On the other, you have TP Mazembe, who made four consecutive finals in the showpiece event of African club football starting 1967, when they were still called TP Englebert and won two of them. They added another two titles in 2009 and 2010, and their squad is made up of international players from across the continent, the majority of whom are experienced when it comes to playing in high-profile cup finals.
USM's progress into the final has been more impressive though, winning four of their knock-out matches and five group games. They came agonisingly close to becoming the first team in the history of the competition to win all six group matches, only losing their final game against Sudanese team Al Merreikh when they were already assured of topping the group.
USM Alger coach Miloud Hamdi, who could become only the second Algerian coach to capture the Champions League title following Kheireddine Madoui's triumph with ES Setif last year, will be without defender Mohamed Meftah and Malagasy striker Carolus Andriamatsinoro after the two players were booked in Alger's 0-0 draw in the semi final return leg in Algeria.
“I’ve got confidence in the rest of the players, and I’m sure that they’ll be up for the challenge, Hamdi said. "After the run they’ve had, it would be a travesty if they didn’t lift the trophy. We 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."
It was not only bad news for the coach though as all his players carrying injuries in the run-up to the game, like defenders Nacereddine Khoualed, Arslane Mazari, Houcine Benayada and Rachid Nadji should be available. Striker Nadji played in some of the early games for ES Setif last year, but left the club before the final.
Filled with experience
Again in contrast, several of the players for Les Corbeaux have not only played in the championship match, they have won it. Goalkeeper Robert Kidiaba, Jean Kasusula and Zambian midfielder Given Singuluma were in the victorious 2009 and 2010 sides, while captain Joel Kimwaki played in the 2010 team. All four were finalists at the FIFA Club World Cup in 2010 and twice won the CAF Super Cup (2010 and 2011).
Côte d’Ivoire players Roger Assale, Sylvain Gbohouo and Koffi Kouame played in the CAF Cup final for Sewe Sports against Al Ahly last year, while Assale and Gbohouo won the Africa Cup of Nations with the Elephants earlier this year. Rainford Kalaba and Nathan Sinkala did the same with Zambia in 2012. The majority of the Mazembe team side also appeared in the 2013 CAF Confederation Cup final, which the DR Congo side lost against CS Sfaxien.
Mazembe's record in Algeria is nothing to write home about, though, as they have not won a single one of the five matches they have played in the country. They lost 5-0 against JS Kabylie in the CAF Cup in 2000 and 10 years later, they drew with the same club and ES Setif in the Champions League. In 2013 they again drew with Setif in the Confederations Cup. Last year Setif beat them in the semi-finals en route to winning the trophy.
But even if their record in Algeria is not a good one, their preparations for Saturday's game will have been second to none. The club spent several days in Morocco preparing for the match and traveled to Algeria on Thursday. Coach Patrice Carteron said their preparations in Morocco had gone well. “The goal for us is to be in a positive atmosphere, as players are happy to be there. These are exceptional moments in life, one must have the will to win this trophy. To achieve this, you have to be good in the head and happy to prepare for this kind of game. We have achieved that and now we will do everything to win.”
The winner of the two-legged final, with the second match coming next weekend, will represent the continent in the FIFA Club World Cup in December in Japan.