TP Mazembe closed in on a fifth African title with a thrilling 2-1 victory in Algeria against USM Alger in the first leg of the CAF Champions League final. Both sides had a player red-carded and the referee awarded two penalties. The winner of the competition will represent the continent at the FIFA Club World Cup later this year.
Mazembe too strong
USM Alger's hopes of becoming the fourth Algerian club to win the show-piece event of African club football suffered a serious set-back at home in the Omar Hammady Stadium as Rainford Kalaba and Mbwana Samatta secured a 2-1 victory for the visiting TP Mazembe side. Mohamed Seguer's goal for USM in the dying minutes came too late to deny the Congolese side a deserved win.
The opening goal midway through the first half came after a stroke of genius from Kalaba. The Zambian deftly controlled a high cross outside the area, let the ball bounce once before slamming a shot past the outstretched hands of goalkeeper Lamine Zemmamouche. The visitors could have doubled their lead shortly afterwards, but Zemmamouche pulled off a great save to deny Nathan Sinkala in a one-on-one situation.
Kalaba was then sent off just before the break for an off-the-ball incident and USM must have fancied their chances to get back into the match. However, they too were reduced to ten men in the 67th minute, when Hocine El Orfi was sent off for a second booking after handling the ball. Although Sinkala missed the penalty, Les Corbeaux made the most of the ten-on-ten situation when Samatta was sent through and could only be brought down by a foul. The Tanzanian international stepped up himself and beat Zemmamouche.
Seguer pulled one back for USM late in the game after the Mazembe defence failed to clear. The forward managed to beat one marker before scoring from the edge of the area with a well-struck shot that gave veteran goalkeeper Robert Kidiaba no chance.
Although Mazembe will go into the return leg as the favourites, they are adamant that there is still a lot of work to be done. "We are not yet champions. We played well against a good opponent. They have shown in the competition that they are a strong side, but nothing is finalised. There is still the second leg. We have not won anything yet," said goalscorer Samatta.
Moment of the game
After going behind, USM Alger's hopes of getting something from the match received a boost just before half-time when goalscorer Kalaba was sent off for an off-the-ball incident. The home side came out of the dressing room determined to get back into the game and playing with a numerical advantage that seemed on the cards. In the 67th minute Mazembe were awarded a free-kick near the corner flag and Adama Traore floated the ball into the area, where Sinkala and El Orfi went up to challenge for the ball. El Orfi though, used his hand to prevent Sinkala from getting to the ball and was shown a second yellow card. Although Sinkala missed the resultant spot-kick, the home side were reduced to ten men and lost the dominance they enjoyed for the opening spell of the second half.
What they said
"We conceded the first goal at a bad time. That was the turning point of the game. Nevertheless, despite this negative result, I remain optimistic about our chances to turn things around in the second leg. We have a team that does well on the road. We have shown that both domestically and in the Champions League,” USM Alger coach Miloud Hamdi.
Player of the game
TP Mazembe had the opportunity to double their lead midway through the first half, after being awarded a penalty. Zambian Sinkala stepped up but saw his weak effort saved by Zemmamouche. With 11 minutes on the clock remaining, Mazembe were given another chance after Samatta was brought down in the area. Dismissing the side's first miss and the unwritten rule that the fouled player should not take the spot-kick, the striker showed no nerves and gave Zemmamouche no chance and ensured his side go into the return leg having won the first game.
6 – TP Mazembe's team is a real League of Nations, with six different countries being represented. Of the 14 players that appeared in the first leg, Congo DR, Ghana and Mali each had three players. There were two players each from Tanzania and Zambia, with Roger Assale the lone Côte d'Ivoire player on the field.
Have your say
Can USM Alger stun Mazembe at home to win the trophy? The last time the side from Congo DR lost in Lubumbashi in a Champions League match was in October 2009.