x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

The heroes of Congo are now taken seriously

Amia Ekanga, the Mazembe midfielder, demands respect for the African club following the defeat of Internacional in semi-final.

TP Mazembe players celebrate after beating Brazilian side Internacional 2-0 in their Club World Cup semi-final in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.
TP Mazembe players celebrate after beating Brazilian side Internacional 2-0 in their Club World Cup semi-final in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.

ABU DHABI // Perhaps the team shield of TP Mazembe should have been a fair warning. It shows a crocodile about to crush a football in its mouth.

If it were fanciful bluster a year ago, when the Congolese side lost twice in the 2009 Club World Cup, the reptile rampant has been the embodiment of "Tout Puissant" (all powerful) Mazembe at this year's event.

Mazembe, dismissed as just another "naive" and "tactically unaware" African club side a few days ago, have sealed their place in the final against Inter Milan on Saturday following their historic 2-0 victory over Internacional of Brazil in the semi-final on Tuesday.

The result set off celebrations back in their home of Lubumbashi, with one blogger there describing the Katanga provincial capital in the Democratic Republic of Congo as the world's "loudest and happiest city".

Amia Ekanga, the Mazembe midfielder, said the club should now be taken seriously by global football.

"You journalists will start to respect us now," he said, a day after Internacional's coach was asked about "being lucky" to face Mazembe in the semi-final rather than Pachuca of Mexico, who lost 1-0 to the African champions.

"You did not respect us before," Ekanga added. "Now you must give us priority as winners who deserved the victory."

Tim Vickery of BBC Sport wrote that "this result is great for the game and an excellent justification of this tournament. Mazembe's victory clearly is good news for the Club World Cup ... having an African team in the final is a positive development".

Mazembe's semi-final victory was the first by a team from outside Europe or South America in 11 Club World Cup meetings, making it notable not just for Africa but Asia and North America, too. The giants from South America and Europe can, clearly, be beaten.

The pertinent question now for Mazembe: can they defeat two giants in one tournament?

Internacional clearly were a flawed side, skilled at creating scoring chances but inept at seizing them, a reality Celso Roth, their coach, conceded after the game.

"That was the big problem we have before the match," he said. "We dominate the game but don't score goals. It worried me."

Do Inter Milan have some of the same shortcomings? Their form has been shaky, but their squad contains names Internacional cannot match.

The final may lack some of the thousands of fans who followed Internacional to these shores, but it will not lack for colour. Not with Mazembe's players, practically an African all-star, all-dancing team, and not with Mazembe's fans and their never-tiring brass band and dancing supporters, some wearing tribal dress and black-and-white face paint.

Instead of the usual Europe-South American showdown, interesting but almost jaded, we have something new and potentially revolutionary heading our way on Saturday night.

 

poberjuerge@thenational.ae