Though they narrowly missed out on a semi-final slot at UAE 2009, with Pohang Steelers coming from behind to deny them, TP Mazembe can at least console themselves with the knowledge that they have one of Africa’s brightest stars in their ranks: Tresor Mputu Mabi.
Along with the African champions' goalkeeper Muteba Kidiaba, the No8 was one of the stand-out performers at the Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium. As his side slid to defeat in the damp conditions, Mputu lit up the occasion with his glittering skills, reminding everyone why he is so highly regarded.
Courted by a number of leading European sides, Mputu is unquestionably one of Africa’s leading home-based players. While the likes of Michael Essien, Didier Drogba and Emmanuel Adebayor have long since left their homeland in search of fame and fortune overseas, the jewel in the Mazembe crown has stayed put to assemble an impressive CV.
Voted player of the tournament when Mazembe won this year’s continental finals, he has also helped his club reach the CAF Champions League on three occasions, scoring 20 goals in the process and playing an integral part in their 2009 triumph. And though he will not be adding the FIFA Club World Cup title to his growing list of honours, more silverware and plaudits are sure to come his way in the future.
Among his many admirers is former Congo DR and Cameroon coach Claude Le Roy, currently in charge of Oman, who has likened him to Samuel Eto’o. Mputu did justice to that comparison against the Koreans, instigating all his side’s best moves and playing the pass that allowed Mbenza Bedi to put the CAF Champions League holders ahead on 28 minutes.
Following his masterful yet eventually fruitless recital, a disappointed Mputu gave his reaction to FIFA.com. “We played well but these games always come to down to little details,” he said. “We nearly pulled it off, though.”
His assessment was an accurate one. The outcome could have been entirely different had Dioko Kaluyituka converted his delicious assist in the seventh minute, or if Mputu’s crisp 30-metre drive on the stroke of half-time had found the back of the net.
“We didn’t have any luck tonight and we just lacked that little bit extra,” bemoaned the captain, who refused to pin his side’s defeat on the pressure of the occasion. “We took it as just another game, but unfortunately for us we lost and that’s it.”
While making no attempt to conceal his sense of dejection, the Mazembe star is determined to get something out of the trip to Abu Dhabi by making sure his side claim fifth place. The opportunity to do that and give the travelling contingent of Congolese fans something to cheer about will come next Thursday, when the Africans take on the losers of Saturday’s quarter-final between Atlante and Auckland City.
“The match for fifth place is very important for us and our supporters,” he says defiantly. “We are not going to give up and we have the motivation and the resources to go out and do it. We don’t care who we’ll be playing. We are ready for the challenge.”
With talk like that to inspire them, not to mention Mputu’s dazzling skills, there is every chance of the intrepid Crows finally taking flight in Abu Dhabi.