Although wise heads will say that anything can happen in the second leg, TP Mazembe Englebert of the Democratic Republic of Congo are now setting their sights on breaking a 31-year-old record rather than worriying whether they will be crowned winners of this year's CAF Champions League.
After a comprehensive 5-0 win over Esperance in the first leg of the final in Lubumbashi on Sunday, Les Corbeaux (The Crows) have virtually assured themselves of a second successive continental title and a fourth overall. Their one-sided win over the Tunisians leaves them with the formality of the return leg in Tunis on 13 November, and a place in the FIFA Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates this December as well.
Sunday’s win, which saw Ngandu Kasongo and Given Singuluma score two apiece and Alain Kaluyituka grab his seventh goal in this year’s competition from the spot, equals the previous record for the biggest winning margin in a leg of the final of Africa’s top club competition. Mazembe set the previous mark in 1968 when they beat Etoile Filante of Togo 5-0 in the first leg of the Champions Cup final.
Now the Crows are targeting the record for the biggest aggregate victory in an African club competition, which was achieved by Canon Yaounde of Cameroon when they defeated Kenya’s Gor Mahia 8-0 over two legs in 1979 to claim the now-defunct African Cup Winners’ Cup.
Early drama sets the course
The five-goal margin should offer plenty of evidence towards the argument that Mazembe have become the best club side in Africa, despite finishing finished behind Esperance in the group phase. The Congolese team will prepare for the second leg by heading to Italy for a training camp later this week after they play neighbours FC St Eloi Lupopo on Tuesday to decide the outcome of their domestic championship.
Sunday’s final saw Mazembe take the game to their Tunisian opponents with Jean Kasusula testing Wassim Naouara in the Esperance goal with two early shots. The breakthrough tally came in just the 18th minute when Patou Kabungu’s free kick was headed home by Kasongo.
Tempers came to the boil and Mohamed Ben Mansour was sent off in the 24th minute for an off-the-ball challenged on Kaluyituka. That meant Esperance’s talismanic forward Oussama Darragi had to be sacrificed by coach Faouzi Benzarti as he sought to keep the game as tight as possible.
To make matters worse, Darragi’s replacement, Zied Derbali, held Kabangu in the box and conceded a penalty on the stroke of half-time, which Kaluyituka converted calmly.
Singuluma turns poacher
Boosted by the two goal advantage, the Crows pushed forward against the ten men, and they found an opening again in the 55th minute. Kabangu missed the initial chance, but Singuluma snapped quickest at the rebound to score, and he added another only four minutes later.
Esperance’s evening seemed to have their nadir in the 65th minute when star striker Michael Eneramo, whose goalscoring exploits had attracted the most attention before the game, was substituted, having made little impact on the game. But there was still time for Kasongo to add an emphatic fifth in the 75th minute.
Coach Lamine N'Diaye, who had the fans chanting ‘Mourinho, Mourinho’ as Mazembe’s dominance became clear, credited his team’s hard work and effort in training for the victory. “I went on the whole week about how we had to keep the same intensity in the match as we had in our preparations,” he said after Sunday’s one-sided success.