TP Mazembe Englebert’s 41-year wait for continental success could be nearing an end, this despite the team from Congo DR suffering a defeat in the first leg of the CAF Champions League final.
Heartland FC of Nigeria beat Mazembe 2-1 in Sunday’s opening encounter but it was widely agreed afterwards that the advantage had swung the way of the Congolese, who now need just a 1-0 win in the Saturday’s return match in Lubumbashi to take Africa’s top club prize.
Mazembe’s vital away goal came from the much-vaunted striker who has been at the forefront of their rise back up the ranks of the top sides in Africa over recent years.
Tresor Mputu was the top scorer in African club competitions in both 2007 and 2008, and although he has not scored as frequently this year, yesterday saw him pop up with a goal when it really mattered. His opening strike in the 23rd minute gave Mazembe the lead in the first leg at the Dan Anyam Stadium in Owerri, where Heartland FC have been such a formidable force in this year’s competition. Indeed, it was only the fourth goal conceded in eight home matches for Heartland in this year’s CAF Champions League.
The Nigerians have proven their fighting qualities along the way to book only a second-ever final appearance and were back in the game almost immediately, when Uche Agba equalised with his seventh goal of this Champions League campaign. However, Heartland’s highly-rated attack, which had plundered five goals against compatriots Kano Pillars in the semi-final, found themselves stymied by a stubborn Mazembe defence and could not find a way through until the closing stages.
Only ten minutes were remaining, in fact, when the hosts took the lead through Agba again, setting up a desperate finale as Heartland pushed forward in a frantic bid to set up a more commanding lead. As it is, it was beaten Mazembe who departed the more satisfied of the two sides, with the Congolese outfit feeling that they now have strong chance of winning the continental title for the first time since 1968.
The team who emerges triumphant from Saturday’s return leg will represent Africa at next month’s FIFA Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi.