Holders Mazembe remain standing

TP Mazembe Englebert of Congo DR again won the CAF Champions League at the weekend, clinching a one-sided 6-1 aggregate triumph in the final over Esperance of Tunisia to retain their title. It concluded a campaign that began in the middle of February and included three rounds of knockout matches, a group stage, four testy semi-finals and two tempestuous legs of what, in the end, turned out to be an extraordinary final. FIFA.com reflects on the 2010 campaign.

When Enyimba of Nigeria won a second successive African Champions League title in 2004, they were the first side to do so in almost 40 years. Only Mazembe before them had achieved back-to-back triumphs, winning in 1967 and 1968. Since Enyimba’s double, Al Ahly of Egypt have won in 2005 and 2006, but Mazembe became the first side to accomplish the feat twice, adding the 2010 edition of the continent’s top club prize to their surprise success in 2009. The 5-0 win for the Congolese in the first leg of the final against Esperance also matched the record score for a match in the deciding tie. The previous mark had been set in 1968, again, by Mazembe.

It was a big challenge, and I feel proud to have achieved the ultimate in African club football.
Mazembe coach Lamine N’Diaye after the final

The secret of the Lubumbashi-based club’s success this year lay in the ashes of a disappointing campaign at the last FIFA Club World Cup. After winning last year’s continental crown, Mazembe went to Abu Dhabi in buoyant mood only to be brought down a peg in losing to Pohang Steelers and Auckland City. The results served to spur the club into reinforcing themselves for another tilt at the continental title, and patron Moise Katumbi went on a recruitment drive, signing players from Zambia and Zimbabwe to strengthen the squad. It meant that Mazembe could even lose their talisman, Tresor Mputu, to a long-term suspension and feel no real effect as they romped to more success. They will get the chance to atone in this December's FIFA World Club Cup in the United Arab Emirates.

The stars
The goals of Esperance’s Michael Eneramo, the Nigerian international whose burly frame provided a constant pounding to opposing defences, saw him emerge as the poster boy of the 2010 Champions League. But arguably the more vital player was Mazembe’s Alain Dioko Kaluyituka, who provided not only goals for Mazembe but was a pivotal force throughout the campaign, settling into the lead role vacated by Mputu. His team-mates, Patou Kabangu and Eric Nkulukuta, were also vital in the consistency of their contribution, and Given Singuluma kept up a steady stream of vital goals for the team nicknamed Les Corbeaux (The Crows). Playmaker Oussama Darragi was the other key player for Esperance, but in the one game in which his talent was most needed, he had to be taken off in the first half after the Tunisians had a defender sent off in the first leg of the final. Giants Al Ahly of Egypt had a star-studded squad going into the Champions League, full of players from the squad that won the CAF Africa Cup of Nations with Egypt earlier in the year, but injuries to the likes of Ahmed Hassan, Mohamed Barakat and Mohamed Aboutrika proved a real hindrance in a withering campaign.

The pendulum of power
Mazembe’s success kept at bay for another year the standard of dominance set by North African clubs. However, three of the four semi-finalists came from the Arabic-speaking countries of North Africa, as did five of the eight sides in the league phase. But there were some setbacks, too. Sudan, for example, had two teams in the last eight a year ago but did not see a side past the knockout phase this time. Also, Tunisia’s Club Africain were tripped up in the second round by Algeria’s JS Kabylie, who went on to fall to Mazembe in the semi-finals.

The surprises
Under-resourced Dynamos of Zimbabwe kept on overcoming the hurdles set by the economic malaise in their country to make it to the group phase yet again. Every match was a test as they scurried to sponsors, benefactors and their fans for money to defray costs, but they managed to fulfil all of their commitments to reach the final eight teams. In the early knockout phase, the surprise packages proved to be Gaborone United of Botswana, who produced a sensational away-goals victory over past winners Orlando Pirates of South Africa in the first round. There was also a surprise early exit for Raja Casablanca of Morocco, former winners of the Champions League on three previous occasions. They lost to Petro Atletico of Angola 2-1 on aggregate.

Next campaign
The end of November is the deadline for entries from the 53 CAF members, plus two associate members in Reunion and Zanzibar, who are seeking to compete in the 2011 edition. There are 13 countries now entitled to two entries each, while the rest have one. The draw for the knockout phase is due to be made in mid-December and the competition starts at the end of January.

What they said
“I’ve had great joy in football, but this victory is a lot of happiness. At club level you always try to do better, but this is formidable. It was a big challenge, and I feel proud to have achieved the ultimate in African club football. I have to say thanks to the players and the management,” Lamine N’Diaye, winning coach of Mazembe.