Although it had to happen one day, it still came as a shock when a team from outside Europe and South America eventually reached the final of the FIFA Club World Cup. And while Congo DR’s TP Mazembe Englebert, architects of this remarkable accomplishment, put in a remarkable team performance to progress from their semi-final against SC Internacional do Porto Alegre, it was a heroic display from their goalkeeper Muteba Kidiaba that provided the platform for their unexpected victory.
This turn of events is even more remarkable given that the Congolese international could have been fulfilling the role of goalkeeping coach at the global event. This was the career path he had mapped out for himself over a year ago, as his mid-30s approached. Instead, he stayed on a few more weeks to gain a taste of the 2009 tournament. Weeks swiftly turned into months, and a year later, Kidiaba is once again back in the limelight in Abu Dhabi.
The TP Mazembe custodian’s first experience of the competition was mixed – he produced some incredible saves, but also received a red card in the match for fifth place against Auckland City, precipitating his team’s defeat. “I was keen to banish that memory, and to try to help my team-mates this time, rather than hinder them,” explained Kidiaba to FIFA.com in the immediate aftermath of his club’s stunning win over Sport Club Internacional. “But today was not about the performance of one single player. This feat was achieved by a solid, well-prepared team.”
The word ‘feat’ fails to adequately convey what the Lubumbashi-based side have achieved here in UAE. Never before had a team from the Mother Continent reached the FIFA Club World Cup final. Les Corbeaux (The Crows), who have got used to upsetting the odds on African soil in recent times, have now done the same in Abu Dhabi, filling an entire continent with joy in the process.
“We’re so proud to be flying the flag for Africa,” said Kidiaba. “We’d like to think that the Congolese nation, as well as people all across the continent, are behind us, just as they were for Ghana at the World Cup in South Africa.”
The Black Stars’ exploits at this year’s FIFA World Cup™ did not go unnoticed by the four-time African champions. “This was always going to be a great year for African football, but it must be said that overall the World Cup was a little disappointing for our confederation’s teams,” said the TP Mazembe shot-stopper. “But Ghana showed us the way. We’re now in the final and the cup is within touching distance. We’re confident we can put in a performance that will enable us to lay our hands on it.”
If TP Mazembe were to emerge victorious on Saturday, it would be no surprise if Kidiaba’s gloved hands were among the first to clutch the trophy. A disappointed Brazilian front line can testify to their reliability, having failed to find the net against a side that were clear underdogs on paper, just as AFC Champions League winners Seongnam Ilhwa FC will be when they face European champions FC Internazionale Milano in the second semi-final on Wednesday.
“What we did tonight, Seongnam can do tomorrow,” stated the veteran keeper. “We proved that the only thing that matters is what takes place on the pitch; other factors shouldn’t ever come into play. If the Koreans believe in themselves like we do, the match is certainly not a foregone conclusion.”
These are sentiments that would instantly gain the approval of Lamine N’Diaye, T.P Mazembe’s Senegalese coach. “During our pre-match preparations, he placed a special emphasis on two things,” revealed Kidiaba, who is famed for his unorthodox celebration routine of bouncing on his backside. “Hard work, because without that, talent is useless. And total concentration because, without that, hard work is pointless. Our other strength is team spirit. It’s as if we’re ready to die for each other out on the pitch.”
As far as personal success is concerned, Kidiaba is not averse to some hard graft himself, as he explained at the end of our interview. “Football is all I have. It’s in my blood and it’s what I’m good at. Moreover, I don’t know any other way of earning a living, so it makes sense for me to train continuously in order to produce my very best.”