Semis pit Congo DR against North Africa
When the 2014 CAF Champions League began, 58 clubs embarked on a journey they hoped would take them all the way to the final. Seven-and-a-half months later, just four teams remain, with TP Mazembe and compatriots Vita Club creating history by giving Congo DR two semi-finalists for the first time ever.
Their opponents in this weekend's first leg semi-final matches, Algeria's ES Setif and CS Sfaxien of Tunisia respectively, have managed to continue North Africa's excellent run in the competition. In all but two of the last nine years, clubs from the region have won the Champions League, and those came in 2009 and 2010 when Mazembe claimed their third and fourth continental titles. The winner of late October's two-legged final will represent the continent in December's FIFA Club World Cup in Morocco.
Match of the week ES Setif–TP Mazembe Saturday's semi-final clash between ES Setif and former champions TP Mazembe will be played behind closed doors due to sanctions on the Algerian club. But it is not only the lack of fans in the stadium that will count against the home side, as the weight of history favours Les Corbeaux, who have three draws and a win from the four previous encounters between the two sides.
Setif coach Kheireddine Madoui is confident his side can make history with a victory but admitted that it would be tough. “It’s a difficult match, and we’ll have to try and avoid making mistakes at the back against a side with a lot of Champions League experience who know exactly what they’re about.” Mazembe have been preparing for the clash in Ghana, and Tanzanian striker Mbwana Samatta said that they will arrive in Algeria fully prepared. "We are confident ahead of the semi-finals,” he said.
Other match* Vita Club–CS Sfaxien* On paper, the odds are heavily stacked in favour of the home side, who have won all three previous semi-final matches in the competition they have played at home in Kinshasa. The Tunisians, on the other hand, have played two semi-final games in the Champions League on the road, but have yet to register a victory – having achieved a draw in 2006 and lost in 1996.
Both coaches will be without some influential players, with Vita Club having to replace striker Eteiama Agiti Tady, who has received a lengthy suspension after playing under two different names. Coach Florent Ibenge called it a “handicap” but said his side would make do without him, while his Sfaxien counterpart Philippe Troussier had to travel to Kinshasa without the injured Mahmoud Ben Salah and Yassine Khenissi.
Player to watch Much of the recent success that TP Mazembe have enjoyed in the Champions League has been built around foreign players, and midfielder Rainford Kalaba is one of those who has been in impressive form for the Congo DR club. The Zambian international, who is nicknamed Maestro, is determined to help the Ravens achieve continental success. "In my head I think only one thing: go to Setif to win. The semi-final matches have another dimension because they open the doors to the final,” the 28-year-old said.
The stat** 3 - **The number of matches that Vita Club have played at home in the semi-finals of the CAF Champions League in their history. It is also the number of matches in the last four that the team from Congo DR has won in the competition. Their appearance in the semi-final of the CAF Cup also saw them win at home. The only time they did not win a continental semi-final match in front of their own fans was in 1976, when Tonnerre Yaounde held them to a 1-1 draw in the Cup Winners' Cup.
What they said "We're a little Tom Thumb, and we will play the first leg at home, which is not really an advantage. But we will use our chances thoroughly, especially as the North African teams still struggle when they travel ,” Florent Ibenge, Vita Club coach.
Have your say Can Philippe Troussier or Mazembe coach Patrice Carteron become just the second French coach to lift the showpiece trophy in African club football? Both are hoping to follow in the footsteps of Bertrand Marchand, who won with Tunisian club Etoile du Sahel in 2007.