After winning the CAF Champions League for the third time in their history and the first time in 41 years, TP Mazembe are understandably thrilled to be lining up at the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2009. And as their 20-year-old forward A Mukok Kanda explained, the Congo DR representatives are intent on making the most of this rare opportunity.
“I would like to express my thanks to God because I have always dreamed of one day playing in a World Cup. Today that dream is about to come true,” he enthused.
Yet while the reigning Congolese and African champions are delighted to be in Abu Dhabi, they have not come this far just to make up the numbers. The Crows kick off their UAE 2009 bid against Korea Republic’s Pohang Steelers in the quarter-finals on Friday, and have the capacity to extend their stay in the Middle East into next week.
One of the main reasons for that is their French-Italian coach Diego Garzitto, who was sacked by the club back in 2004 and is now in charge once more. Unknown on either side of the Alps, Garzitto is not unduly bothered about his low profile back home. “To be honest with you, I’m not bitter about it at all,” he told FIFA.com.
The experienced 59-year-old tactician has worked wonders with the team from Lubumbashi, the second-largest city in Congo DR, taking them to the summit of African club football. “We just worked hard and everything followed on from there,” he said with a hint of understatement in analysing Mazembe’s stunning triumph. “We started to win games and we just wanted to carry on winning, which we did.”
Garzitto is now hoping that his success-hungry charges can continue their hot streak on the international stage. To prepare for the big event he took them off to Zimbabwe for a special training camp where his squad could train in the best possible conditions. “This World Cup means a lot to us,” he said. “We have been given the chance to show that African teams can play good football.”
TP, which stands for Tout Puissant (French for 'all powerful'), have been doing everything in their power to ensure that they can do African football proud. A 3-0 friendly win over Zimbabwean champions Gunners raised team morale even higher, and having studied their Korean opponents in depth on video, Garzitto believes his troops have what it takes to get the win.
“I’ve seen a few of their matches now and there are some things I have picked up on,” he said. “Pohang have some very interesting players, especially Denilson. But TP have a few of their own as well.”
Tresor worth his weight in gold
TP’s main asset is their attack, led by prolific striker Tresor Mputu Mabi, a player who does full justice to the club’s name and who top-scored in African club competitions in 2007 and 2008. “We have three very effective front men who have scored 176 goals in all this year,” continued the Mazembe coach. “We’re looking good up front and I honestly feel they’ll score in this competition too.”
While Mputu was not in quite such prolific form last season, he did at least chip in with some important goals, none more so than an ultimately vital strike in the first leg of the Champions League final against Heartland in Nigeria. As well as being a talismanic scorer, the mobile Mputu is also team captain and was named player of the tournament at this year’s African Championship of Nations. Recognition of his recent achievements came with a nomination for the 2009 BBC African Footballer of the Year award, a coveted accolade for which he will vie with the esteemed quartet of Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, Samuel Eto’o and Yaya Toure.
The international striker, who has won ten caps for Congo DR to date, is the man to whom Garzitto will be looking to unlock the Pohang defence and give his side the chance to emulate Etoile Sportive du Sahel’s fourth-placed finish two years ago.
“Back home, they’re even happier than we are,” said Garzitto in reference to the huge sense of expectation their UAE adventure is generating in Congo DR. And should Tresor and his fellow standard-bearers achieve another win over Pohang, those expectations will surely soar even higher.