x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Mazembe plans work to perfection

The African champions finished their feisty quarter-final against Pachuca with 10 men and a place in the semi-finals after being dominated for the majority of the match.

Muteba Kidiaba, the TP Mazembe goalkeeper, gets tangled up with his defender as they attempt to block a cross during their 1-0 triumph over Mexican side Pachuca in Abu Dhabi last night. Ravindranath K / The National
Muteba Kidiaba, the TP Mazembe goalkeeper, gets tangled up with his defender as they attempt to block a cross during their 1-0 triumph over Mexican side Pachuca in Abu Dhabi last night. Ravindranath K / The National

TP Mazembe 1 // Pachuca

TP Mazembe Bedi 21’
Sent off Sunzu (TP Mazembe)?
Man of the match Alejandro Manso (Pachuca)

ABU DHABI // For a club hailing from a nearly landlocked country, TP Mazembe certainly know how to weather a storm. The African champions from the Democratic Republic of Congo finished last night's feisty quarter-final against North American representatives Pachuca with 10 men and a place in the semi-finals after being dominated for the majority of the match.

Mbenza Bedi, the Congolese midfielder, scored early in the first half, but the Mexican side struck the woodwork twice and had a series of efforts saved by Muteba Kidiaba, the goalkeeper.

"Having studied Pachuca, our plan worked, but I am looking forward to my team playing better," said Lamine N'Diaye, coach of the African champions. "From a technical point of view, we had problems and need to keep control of the ball better."

Seven of Mazembe's line-up started their 2-1 quarter-final defeat to Pohang Steelers in Abu Dhabi last year, while two of Pachuca's side - Mexican Paul Aguilar and Francisco Torres of the United States - represented their countries at this summer's World Cup in South Africa.

With vuvuzelas outlawed by the local organising committee, the colourful tribal band that has grown synonymous with Mazembe in their two Club World Cup outings in the Emirates, opted for brass horns and trumpets. And the players seemed spurred on by their rendition of Africa's World Cup anthem, Waka Waka.

Given Singuluma, their Zambian forward, had the first goalscoring chance of the match when he almost immediately beat the high offside trap to sneak a shot away. However, Miguel Calero, the Pachuca goalkeeper, was well-placed to save at his near post.

In the 19th minute, Alejandro Manso found space on the left and smashed a shot from distance that banged the inside of the far post but somehow stayed out. The Argentine was set free again moments later, but Mazembe's defence snuffed the chance out. And from that the Africans charged forward; Mulota Kabangu displaying vision to feed Bedi, whose shot went in via the hand of Calero to open the scoring and ramp up the volume of the tribal musicians among the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium crowd of 17,960.

"The music and dancing encourages us and empowers us to play with more belief; it motivates us to play better," N'Diaye said. "I hope this continues to happen because it is very important to all of the players."

Pachuca rallied and had the ball in the net shortly after the half-hour mark, but Manso was deemed offside well before he had crossed to the welcoming feet of Dario Cvitanich.

N'Diaye showed his intent to secure the win at half time, replacing the ineffective midfielder Amia Ekanga with a third striker, Ngandu Kasongo.

With Pachuca now dominating in the centre of the pitch, Mazembe began to show their frustration at not being able to gain possession. Two yellow cards in quick succession were followed by a short free kick that ended in Raul Martinez hitting a rasping drive against the upright from 30 yards.

It seemed inevitable the Mexicans would equalise, but Mazembe - be it through a set of legs or a solid upright - continued to thwart them.

With Mazembe's composure evaporating, their quest to hold on was made more difficult when Stoppila Sunzu was dismissed with nine minutes to go. As the Africans sat deeper, Pachuca threw everything at them, but could not capitalise on their possession. Substitute Edgar Benitez, Franco Arizala and Cvitanich were all guilty of profligacy late on.

The result took Pachuca's Club World Cup record to four defeats in five matches. Mazembe, meanwhile, can look forward to a Tuesday night semi-final meeting with Internacional, the South American champions.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae