JOHANNESBURG – TP Mazembe will begrudgingly step into Lucas Moripe Stadium tonight to face SuperSport United with a chance to become the first club to retain the Caf Confederation Cup.
The standards and expectations in the Ravens camp are so high that reaching the final of the secondary competition isn’t much of an achievement as that means they failed in the Caf Champions League - the main prize that the DR Congo side is obsessed with.
Unfancied CAPS United from Zimbabwe stunned the five-time African champions in the first round to knock them out of the Champions League. Mazembe picked themselves up from that disappointment like they did last year and went all the way in the Confederation Cup.
“We were very disappointed when we were eliminated in the Champions League,” Mazembe captain Rainford Kalaba said yesterday at Lucas Moripe Stadium.
“It was painful for the whole family of Mazembe, from the chairman to us as players and the fans. We went back into the Confederation Cup with the goal of reaching the final, which we have done.
"The aim now is to return with the cup to Lubumbashi. It would be good for us and will also maintain the name of the team.”
Mazembe have to protect a 2-1 lead from the first leg to return home with the trophy.
Ravens coach Pamphile Mihayo Kazembe promised they would not sit back but will take the game to SuperSport in front of what should be a packed stadium as fans wearing any blue t-shirt enter for free in a bid to create a hostile crowd like the one SuperSport faced in Lubumbashi.
Even though Mazembe command a strong crowd and have a rich history on the continent, they are a shadow of the all-conquering side that took their Champions League titles to five and became the first African team to reach the final of the Fifa Club World Cup in 2010.
Key members of that side either retired or were sold to Europe.
Mazembe are in a re-building phase which is why they aren’t as powerful as they traditionally were. But such is their class, they still managed to reach the final of a continental competition.
“In all the games that we have played in this competition, we had one idea, which is to play well and win the game because TP Mazembe is a big team,” Kazembe said.
“When teams see Mazembe in front of them, some of them are overcome by fear (regardless of who is playing for us). I also have a good group of experienced players in the team.
“It’s not that we are a completely new team. The experienced players are smart, they know how to play these competitions and what’s needed to win. The young players add exuberance into the team, which is why we see ourselves here.”
SuperSport will be boosted by the return of Reneilwe Letsholonyane from suspension. Ninety minutes stand between this generation and the club’s first continental title in their first appearance in the final of the Confederation Cup.
Should they be victorious, this trophy will be in good company as SuperSport already hold the domestic MTN8 and Nedbank Cup that guaranteed them a place in next year’s Confederation Cup.
“It’s like I said to the players, winning this trophy will give you proper legend status,” coach Eric Tinkler said.
“Winning on the continent is no easy task. It’s a mammoth task. When you do it, you need to be extremely proud of what you have achieved. I think that for the players, myself, and the country, winning this trophy would be a fantastic achievement."