Lubumbashi is expecting for is biggest party in 40 years as home side TP Mazembe Englebert are favourites to win the CAF Champions League on Saturday, despite a first leg deficit. It is almost 40 years since the southern Congolese town last hosted a match of this magnitude and more than four decades since Mazembe were crowned as continental champions. But first Les Corbeaux must overcome the one goal deficit from last weekend's first leg against Heartland FC. The Nigerians won 2-1 at home in Owerri, having to come from a goal behind to secure a slight advantage for the return leg.
Mazembe have proven all but invincible at the compact and spartan Stade Kenya over the last year and return to the intimidating venue for the final, after it had several weeks of renovations in anticipation of the deciding game of Africa's top club competition. Mazembe lost 2-0 at home in the second leg of their semi-final tie against Al Hilal, but that game was played last month at the alternate Stade Kibasa Maliba and the defeat came as the hosts lost concentration, having amassed a 5-2 lead from the first leg in Sudan.
Saturday's second leg of the final has Lubumbashi in a frenzy of excitement, forcing their favourite sons to seek refuge in Zimbabwe once again to finalise their preparations. Mazembe had also gone to Harare before the first leg where they are largely unnoticed and can train under their coach Diego Garzitto in relative obscurity. "We have all to play for in the return leg and with the fans behind us we should be able to win at home," said Franco-Italian trainer.
The burden of expectation will be high as the Congolese nation awaits a return to the glory days the former Zaire enjoyed in the late 1960s and early 1970s when they found themselves at the pinnacle of the continental game. The country's president Joseph Kabila will be at the game, along with the leadership of African football. Alongside them will be many key figures from the all-conquering Mazembe side that won the old African Champions' Cup in 1967 and 1968 and reached the final for two successive years thereafter.
Among them are Pierre Kalala, arguably Congo's greatest ever footballer, and former club captain Tshimenu Bwanga, who is travelling from Belgium to watch. Bwanga, a member of the Zaire team at the 1974 FIFA World Cup™ finals in the then West Germany, has warned the 2-1 scoreline could be precarious: "This is a score that is not bad but things can quickly become dangerous if the team doesn't take things seriously.
"It reminds me of the 1970 final where we were in the same situation against Asante Kotoko of Ghana. We had lost 2-1 away and at our home we were undone in a 1-1 draw. The key for Saturday is for Mazembe to not concede anything. It is decisive that they keep up their concentration throughout the game."
Heartland have chartered a plane to take them from Port Harcourt to Lubumbashi just 24 hours before the game. They played Mazembe in the group phase of this year's CAF Champions League and lost 0-2. "The home team will be under pressure and we'll have the opportunity to score the goals we need to win the cup," predicted Heartland coach Kelechi Emetole before his side's departure for the match.
The winner of the tie will head to next month's FIFA Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi as Africa's representatives.