/ 19 October 2009

Mazembe reach African final despite shock defeat

Democratic Republic of Congo club Tout Puissant Mazembe reached the African Champions League final on Sunday despite a shock 2-0 home loss to Sudanese side Al-Hilal.

Mazembe qualified 5-4 on goal aggregate after winning the first leg of the semifinal 5-2 in Omdurman two weeks ago and will face Nigerian team Heartland in a two-leg climax.

A record $1,5-million will be on offer for the winners, a 50% hike from last year when Al-Ahly of Egypt defeated Cotonsport Garoua of Cameroon in the final to claim a record sixth title.

Winning the premier African Football Confederation club competition also earns the victors an invite to the Fifa Club World Cup in the United Arab Emirates during December with Spanish maestros Barcelona possible rivals.

Mazembe coaches and officials boasted that Hilal were wasting their time travelling to Lubumbashi in the south of the vast, mineral-rich central African country after suffering a three-goal home hiding.

But Brazil-born Hilal coach Paulo Campos refused to throw in the towel, telling Sudanese reporters anything was possible in football, even a four-goal away victory over Mazembe.

By halftime at the Municipal Stadium in Lubumbashi the South American must have believed the ‘impossible’ was possible after Zimbabwe-born striker Edward Sadomba gave Hilal a 2-0 advantage through goals on 26 and 33 minutes.

Another couple of goals in the second half would have taken Hilal to the final for the first time in sensational fashion, but it was not to be as Mazembe tightened up at the back and there were no further goals.

Heartland will host the first leg of the final in the south-east city of Owerri over the weekend of October 31-November 1 with the return fixture in Lubumbashi one week later.

The clubs clashed at the mini-league stage of the competition bankrolled by a Paris-based telecommunications company with Mazembe and Heartland winning 2-0 at home.

Heartland will be getting a second bite at the biggest African club football cherry having lost 4-1 on aggregate to Entente Setif in the 1988 final when the club was known as Iwuanyanwu Nationale.

Mazembe are back in the big time after reaching a record four consecutive finals from 1967, winning the first two and losing the others when called TP Englebert. — AFP