ABU DHABI // A year ago TP Mazembe were at Abu Dhabi International Airport ready to fly back to their home base of Lubumbashi, having lost to both Pohang Steelers, the Asian champions, and Auckland City, the Oceania champions, in the 2009 Club World Cup.
Yesterday, the Congolese team were the focal points of an open training session in the capital, just two days ahead of their historic meeting with Inter Milan, the European champions, in the final of the 2010 tournament.
They had an hour-long morning workout on a pitch belonging to Al Dhafra, the Pro League club.
Mazembe's training was open for television camera crews and photographers, but no players were made available to answer questions from reporters.
At the end of the session, an official from the team approached the waiting media, about 20 in all and including representatives from Italy, Brazil and South Korea, to announce that there would be no interviews as the players headed for the changing room and then to a waiting bus.
However, some of the Mazembe fans on a sponsored trip to the UAE, clarified the mood in the camp.
"They are preparing for a big game and shouldn't get distracted," said Bennett Lupinda, a tennis coach by profession and one of the fans selected by Moise Katumbi, the club president, for an all-expenses-paid trip to Abu Dhabi.
"Believe me, they will win the final," Lupinda said. "We have never felt like this before. That's why the club president had generously sponsored an all-paid trip for 100 fans to fly here and support the team."
Lupinda has a very specific idea of how the final will go. "Mazembe will win 2-0 with goals from Given Singuluma and Mulota Kabangu," he said, adding: "They have beaten two football powerhouses, Pachuca and Internacional, to reach the final. And before that, they beat Esperance of Tunisia 6-1 on aggregate to become the African champions."
The Mazembe fans, though numbering only a couple of hundred, have been the most vocal and spectacular at the Club World Cup.
They are known for a blaring brass band, and for singing and dancing during their club's matches, even last year when their club lost twice.
Some of the supporters have worn traditional African warrior clothing on their visits to the stadiums.
"We are not only here to win but to show how passionate we are as fans," Lupinda said. "Even our players have some unusual hair-styles and strange but spectacular ways of celebrating on the pitch.
"These come with the culture and background of the players that have been born and raised in different areas of the country."
One player who has caught everyone's attention is Muteba Kidiaba, the Mazembe goalkeeper who shaves his head, aside from a dozen braided and beaded strands on the top of his head. Kidiabe has made famous his "duck" celebration - bouncing along in a circle using his rear and his heels.
"Kidiaba was imitating what every child in Congo does for fun," Lupinda said. "He has done a great job for the team and be ready to see more of the Congolese stunts on the pitch after Saturday's final. And we are ready to bring the roof down with our trumpet-blowing fans."