There is no questioning that four-time African champions TP Mazembe Englebert are a force to be reckoned with on their home continent. Now, having won the CAF African Champions League for the last two years in succession, the Congolese outfit have now started to throw their weight around on the global stage as well.
Club de Futbol Pachuca can vouch for that after going down 1-0 to the Lubumbashi side in the quarter-finals of the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2010 last week. Mazembe's reward for that notable success is for a semi-final against reigning Copa Libertadores champions SC Internacional do Porto Alegre, a meeting the Brazilians cannot afford to take lightly.
One of the factors in the African side’s defeat of Los Tuzos was their ability to combine their vaunted attacking strength with solidity at the back. It was an attribute that matchwinner Mbenza Bedi pointed to when he spoke to FIFA.com after last Friday’s game: “We’re not a defensive team but a team that defends well.”
The Crows’ new Senegalese coach Lamine N’Diaye has had a big hand giving them this added steel. A renowned tactician, N’Diaye’s standing with TP Mazembe fans is such that rate him as highly as a certain well-known Portuguese coach, regaling him with chants of “Mourinho! Mourinho!” after the 5-0 defeat of Esperance in the first leg of this year’s CAF Champions League final.
N’Diaye has no desire to hog the limelight, however, and is more than content to deflect praise towards his players. “I’ve been telling them all week that all they have to do is to go out and do on the pitch what they’ve been doing in training,” he said, explaining his motivational techniques.
“After all, it all depends on them and only them. Since I took over this team they’ve surprised me in every game. And they’re the only ones responsible for their success, because when they run out on the pitch I have to stop at the touchline.”
Aside from N’Diaye’s valuable input from the bench, the Congolese hopefuls have also been indebted to their charismatic goalkeeper Muteba Kidiaba, whose sparkling saves frustrated Pachuca and whose effusive celebration of Bedi’s matchwinning strike caused much hilarity in the stands. Given the disappointments he endured at UAE 2009, Kidiaba’s joy was understandable.
“Against Auckland City last year I handled the ball outside the box and got sent off,” the keeper told FIFA.com in a recent interview. “People remember me for that red card. This time I want them to remember me for my ability.”
The Pachuca strikers certainly have every reason to remember Kidiaba, who used his reflexes and speed off the line to thwart them time and again, while the woodwork also came to his rescue on a couple of occasions. As Bedi said afterwards: “When you play with that kind of togetherness, when your keeper has a good day and when you have a little bit of luck too, then you get the feeling that nothing can go wrong.”
There is one other factor that makes the Crows such a formidable outfit, however. Prior to the start of each half, the players line up on the goal-line and kneel down to pray, sending out the signal to their opponents that the TP Mazembe wall is one that takes a lot to knock down.