x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Mazembe playing for all of Africa, says N'Diaye

TP Mazembe's Senegalese coach believes his African team can conjure the strength to dismantle Inter Milan tonight.

Diego Milito’s battle against TP Mazembe goalkeeper Muteba Kidiaba could go a long way to determining who wins the final.
Diego Milito’s battle against TP Mazembe goalkeeper Muteba Kidiaba could go a long way to determining who wins the final.

ABU DHABI // Lamine N'Diaye, TP Mazembe's Senegalese coach, believes his African team can conjure the strength to dismantle a European juggernaut in tonight's Club World Cup final, but insisted the result is secondary so long as the players do the continent proud.

The Congolese side made history earlier this week by becoming the first team from outside Europe or South America to reach the final of Fifa's intercontinental club competition. Their reward is a meeting with Inter Milan, winners of last year's Uefa Champions League, at Zayed Sports City.

"We know that the game will be difficult, because we are realistic people," N'Diaye said. "But you never know. Life is full of surprises. We will defend, we will attack and we will try to score. There will be 11 players playing in white and 11 players playing in blue and if we didn't think we could compete we would stay at the team hotel."

All 22 of the Mazembe squad hold African passports and just four represent countries from outside the Democratic Republic of Congo. For them, providing a positive advert for African football is primary.

"It is unusual for an African side to reach this final and so, no matter what happens, we have to be proud of that," N'Diaye said. "I will be happy so long as the players show their best and I am proud of their performances. We represent Africa as a whole continent and we hope to seize the opportunity to represent our continent positively. To win or not to win is not important for us."

N'Diaye was hailed as "the African Mourinho" by Mazembe's buoyant supporters after their team became the first side to successfully defend the African Champions League earlier this year. It is likely not a sobriquet that will sit well with Rafa Benitez.

The Inter coach, having inherited an all-conquering side from the departing manager Jose Mourinho in the summer, has stuttered in his initial months at the Nerazzurri. Inter sit seventh in Serie A and finished runners-up in their Champions League group earlier this month.

With Mourinho's shadow continuing to loom ominously over him, reports in the Italian media suggest the Spaniard could lose his job if he returns to Milan without the trophy.

"Everybody knows the importance of this tournament and Mazembe deserve to be in the final," Benitez said.

"We watched them in the African Champions League and they are very strong physically and work very hard for each other right throughout the team.

"To play against the first African side to reach the final is an honour and a challenge for us, but it is also very important for us as a continent that we win as it will become an important part of our club's history. We want to return Inter to the top and that is why winning [tonight] is crucial."

Benitez confirmed that the playmaker Wesley Sneijder will miss tonight's match after being unable to shake off the hamstring strain he suffered in their semi-final win over Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma.

N'Diaye will recall midfielder Stoppila Sunzu, who missed Mazembe's victory over Internacional through suspension.

The Africans' last hurdle is their third game in eight days, but N'Diaye refused to accept fatigue as an excuse.

"Tiredness may affect us," he said. "But if you are lucky enough to have the opportunity to play in the Club World Cup final, being exhausted should be secondary."

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

9pm, Abu Dhabi Sports 1 and Aljazeera Sport 2, +3, +8 & HD2