Ten years ago today, TP Mazembe reached the final of the FIFA Club World Cup
Congolese side became first African team to progress beyond the semi-finals
Isaac Kasongo looks back on that joyful episode
There are certain celebrations that become etched into the memories of football fans everywhere. Like Marco Tardelli sprinting with outstretched arms in the Final of the FIFA World Cup™ 1982, and Bebeto pretending to rock the baby in 1994. Like Fabio Grosso letting it all out at World Cup 2006, or even a dumbstruck Lilian Thuram seemingly unable to grasp the enormity of his brace in the semi-final of the World Cup in 1998.
And how could we forget the joyous dances performed by the players of TP Mazembe – and above all their goalkeeper, Robert Kidiaba – when the Congolese side qualified for the final of the FIFA Club World Cup 2010, ten years ago today? FIFA.com caught up with Isaac Kasongo, the midfielder who was part of that side and is now the Ravens’ assistant coach, to look back on a special chapter in the history of African football.
Since its creation in 2000, the competition had become something of a straight duel between Europe and South America, with teams from those confederations contesting the finals of its first six editions. However, that all changed on 14 December 2010 when TP Mazembe, the newly-crowned champions of Africa from Congo DR, put an end to the era of European and South American dominance. On that day in the United Arab Emirates, the team from Lubumbashi wrote a new chapter in both their club’s history and that of the competition.
In their first match, the Congolese outfit overcame Mexican side CF Pachuca by the finest of margins. That result alone represented a big achievement for the team, not to mention an improvement on the previous season, when they had lost their first match against Pohang Steelers from Korea Republic. And so, as they prepared to face Brazilian side Internacional, who had just won the Copa Libertadores, the TP Mazembe players were already singing and dancing. They felt no pressure.
Following a tight first half, TP Mazembe sprang into action in the second half. In the 53rd minute, Alain Kaluyituka’s flick-on reached Patou Kabangu, whose shot found the far corner of the net. In the 85th minute, Kaluyituka dribbled through the Brazilian defence and doubled his team’s lead. Thanks to their 2-0 victory, the Ravens had secured a spot in the final.
“Every player dreams of playing in the final of the Club World Cup,” Isaac Kasongo told FIFA.com. “Taking on Inter Milan was no easy task, but we’d earned it. We were going to face Eto'o, Milito: players that we were more used to watching on television.”
Things did not run so smoothly in the final. Goals from Goran Pandev, Samuel Eto'o and Jonathan Biabiany gave Inter Milan a 3-0 win over the Congolese side. However, Kasongo’s sense of satisfaction still far outweighs any regrets. “We did the African people proud. There were many great teams taking part in that competition and we were the ones who got to the final. When we returned to Congo DR, we were greeted like heroes. We represented not only the province of Lubumbashi, not only Congo DR, but the whole of Africa," enthused the former Congolese international.
“When we arrived in Lubumbashi, there was a huge crowd waiting for us. After that, we went all over the country,” Kasongo recalled. “We started in our town and then travelled to Kinshasa via Kolwezi. We were given a great reception in every province of the DRC.”
TP Mazembe have since returned to the Club World Cup, but without ever enjoying the same success as in 2010. Yet Kasongo is not concerned. He believes that African football has a bright future and that the club from Lubumbashi has a part to play in it. “It has served as an inspiration for a lot of players, a lot of teams. If we played in the final of the Club World Cup, why shouldn’t another team do it? Africa has some great teams and now it’s up to them to show what they’re capable of,” he concluded.
Internacional’s elimination was to have significant repercussions back in Porto Alegre. Historic rivals Gremio had a field day at their neighbour’s misfortune.
Firstly, two special beers were created: the Mazembier and the Kidiaba, named after TP Mazembe’s goalkeeper. Then in 2014, a new bridge was opened. Although its official name may be the Viaduto Abdias do Nascimento, in reality everyone calls it the Viaduto Mazembe because of its shape, which resembles a giant M.