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Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Mazembe continues African legacy

Firdose Moonda

Pele said that 2010 would be the year that an African team would win the World Cup. He didn't say which one, so he may yet be proved right. The Democratic Republic of Congo's TP Mazembe are into the Club World Cup Final in Abu Dhabi and are just one match away from lifting a title for the continent in the same year as it hosted its first World Cup. Don't be surprised if you haven't heard of them; chances are that you're not alone. Here's a quick history lesson. The club is from Lubumbashi, a Congolese town close to Zambian border. It was founded by Benedictine Monks in 1939 and was first called Englebert. They achieved a treble not long after Congolese independence in which they won the championship, Katanga Cup and Congo Cup in 1966. TP Mazembe were African Champions in 1967 and 1968 and again in 2009 and 2010. At last year's Club World Cup, they were knocked out in the first round, after a 2-1 loss to South Korea's Poyang Steelers. In other words, they've had no real reason to get noticed on the international stage, until now. The sentiments surrounding Africa in football are helping them, but reports from the United Arab Emirates indicate that the Congolese club has won the hearts of the people there. There's no doubt that the same will happen in Africa when news of the victory spreads. For the moment, it has popped up on fans' facebook pages and the Congo News Agency and Congo Planet websites carried a match report. The stories have not been overly fancy, since TP Mazembe don't play a complicated brand of football. Keutsepilemang Ndebele, a professional football coach from Zimbabwe who is the author of Tsendex's Diski blog calls the African Champions a "revelation& in playing textbook football." Without having the skills and finesse as some of the European or South American clubs, their philosophy is simply to work hard and play for each other. Even Internacional coach Celso Roth praised their discipline and solid technique after the game. Thankfully, their ordered approach doesn't extend to the way they celebrate. Goalkeeper Muteba Kidiaba's method of bouncing on his backside when his team-mates have found the back of the net at the other end of the pitch is going viral. A clip of his celebration is available online and it risks becoming as legendary as Roger Milla's tango with the corner-flag. Joking aside, Ndebele believes the Congolese club's achievement should be a lesson to other big clubs in Africa, particularly those who neglect the African Champions League. He seems to think the smart money is not on them winning the final but has called it "not impossible." It some ways it doesn't matter if they do, because they've already proved a point. It's too early to tell if it's the point Sepp Blatter is pushing: that the quality of clubs is evening out worldwide, but it's a point nonetheless. They've earned the grievance of headline writers the world over who were dreaming of the "Inter vs Inter" final. It doesn't matter. In the morning, they are going to earn the praise of all of Africa and, by the end Saturday, they could well earn direct praise from Pele himself.


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