WHETHER by design or default, the sporting gods had to make sure that the Democratic Republic of Congo would be a defining feature in this compelling tale — a football version of a titanic boxing showdown 43 years ago which is widely considered as the greatest sporting event of the 20th Century.
They dubbed it Rumble In The Jungle, an iconic battle for the world heavyweight crown at Kinshasa’s Tata Raphael Stadium, pregnant with a combination of both brutality, a remarkable display of courage and a never-say-die spirit that provided the beauty to the ugliness of this titanic conflict.
A defiant challenger being battered for seven rounds by a monster of a champion — who had the advantage of being the younger and bigger fighter at the peak of his athletic powers — being dragged to the limits of what a body could endure, what a man could take, enduring torment that stretched physical boundaries and smashed pain thresholds.
Where mere mortals would have long surrendered, but somehow defiantly refusing to throw in the towel.
And at the end of it all, the underdog, who was never given a chance to win this contest, summoning energy from a fountain hidden somewhere in his battered body, in the eighth round, to knock out the champion.
Somehow, the sporting gods would ensure that the DRC — 43 years after it transformed itself into the theatre that provided the setting for a rank underdog to write the world’s greatest sporting event — would also feature prominently in another giant-killing act, this time in football, which had a similar ringing tone.
CAPS United, please tell me, what have you guys just done?
Like Ali in the Rumble In The Jungle, using the DRC to inscribe your name into immortality, like Ali in the Rumble In the Jungle, having the inner strength to weather the worst ferocious battering one can ever get in a sporting contest and still live to enjoy the sweet taste of success, like Ali in the Rumble In The Jungle, defying insurmountable odds to emerge as the most unlikely of victors.
Like Ali in the Rumble in the Jungle just hanging on those ropes, as the opponent threw everything at you, refusing to be swallowed by the shame of defeat, refusing to be subdued by the darkness of elimination, refusing to be crushed by the pain of being knocked out and refusing to be swept away by the tide of elimination.
Like Ali in the Rumble In The Jungle, refusing to be lured by the temptation of surrender, which at times looked like the best way out of that pounding and, like Ali in the Rumble In the Jungle, having the courage to fight on, to hang on in there and, when it mattered most, find the strength to throw the knockout punch.
Makepekepe, can you please tell me, what have you guys just achieved?
Tell me boys that this isn’t a dream, and just in case it is, please don’t wake me up to face the nightmare that it all wasn’t real — the enduring beauty of that occasion when victory was secured, the captivating sights and sounds of that moment when success was confirmed, the pride of being winners, later-day Davids who dethroned this Goliath.
Football, what a beautiful game!
A TALE TOLD BY A GENIUS, FULL OF SOUND AND FURY AND REPRESENTING GREATNESS
When George Foreman arrived in Kinshasa for the Rumble In The Jungle in October 1974, he was this unbeaten, and some said unbeatable hybrid specimen who had put together an impressive 40-0 record, including 37 knockouts, an emperor who ruled the ring with a touch of genius and a streak of ruthlessness.
And, as fate would have it, when Congolese giants TP Mazembe arrived in Harare last week, they also had put together a 4-0 (it reads like Foreman’s 40-0, doesn’t it?) Champions League record against Zimbabwean clubs with Dynamos being hammered 1-4 in their two matches while Monomotapa had been thrashed 0-7.
In 31 CAF Champions League knockout matches, before the group stages, since they started ruling the continent again in 2009, TP Mazembe had — ahead of the game against Makepekepe on Sunday — won 18, drawn eight and lost just five.
Against Southern African opposition, they had been virtually unbeatable, thrashing Zambia’s Power Dynamos 7-1 on aggregate in 2012, hammering Botswana’s Mochudi Centre Chiefs 7-0 on aggregate in 2013, destroying Petro Atletico de Luanda of Angola 5-1 on aggregate in 2009 and, lest we forget, massacring Monoz 7-0 and thumping DeMbare 4-1.
They eliminated Mamelodi Sundowns 3-2 on aggregate, after a 3-1 win in their Lubumbashi fortress, in 2015, a year before the Brazilians emerged as the best team on the continent.
Only Orlando Pirates had stood up to Mazembe, knocking them out in that second round battle in 2013, but even then, just to show how difficult this was, the Soweto giants needed the heroics of the late ‘keeper Senzo Meyiwa to save two controversial penalties in Lubumbashi, including one with the last kick of the game.
Surely, how could CAPS United, just emerging from the wilderness where they had been lost for more than a decade, compete against such a giant that, in the course of their time in the darkness, has not only won three Champions League titles, including one just two years ago, but also reached the final of the FIFA Club World and also won the CAF Confederation Cup?
Some even feared the Green Machine would be hammered, like Power Dynamos before them, 7-1 on aggregate, like Mochudi Centre Chiefs before them, 7-0 on aggregate, like Petro Atletico before them, 5-1 on aggregate, like our Dynamos before them, 4-1 in their two matches and, like our Monoz before them, 7-0 in their two meetings.
After all, no southern African team had managed to avoid defeat, in Lubumbashi, since Mazembe reinvented themselves into a force on the continent in 2009 and Mochudi Centre Chiefs had conceded six goals just three years ago, Power Dynamos had conceded six goals just four years ago, Mamelodi Sundowns had conceded three goals just two years ago and Monoz had conceded five goals in that stadium.
But, like Muhammad Ali in the Rumble In The Jungle, Makepekepe refused to be bullied by history, to be buried by the past, to be intimidated by bygones and, in a remarkable display of both bravery and the kind of never-say-die spirit that powered Ali to victory in Kinshasa, the Green Machine scripted a tale told by a genius, full of sound and fury, and signifying greatness by toppling the giant.
They did it through sheer guts, teamwork where every player contributed even though the contribution of ‘keeper Edmore Sibanda was very, very special, and in the process they became the first Southern African club to concede just one goal, over 180 minutes of Champions League action, against Mazembe since this club was rebuilt into this giant eight years ago.
And, remarkably, they became the first Southern African football club to score in Lubumbashi in the Champions League, since Mazembe was remodelled into this giant in 2009, in the knockout matches of this tournament.
To achieve all this, against a team whose financial muscle cannot only make them woo some of the best players from Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Ghana, Zambia, Iraq and Belgium, but build a $35 million ultra-modern stadium, buy two private passenger jets, including a customised 140-seater MD-80 jet fitted with a 16-seat VIP Lounge, can afford a wage bill of $5 million a year and can pay their best players $500 000 a year, was simply incredible for Makepekepe.
Maybe some things are just meant to be, it’s the way fate probably reminds us of its overbearing strength over us — like the DRC providing the setting for the Rumble In The Jungle and then a club from that country providing football with its version of big George Foreman going down in that mega fight against Muhammad Ali, as was the case when CAPS United knocked out Mazembe.
Or, in the case of the triumphant Green Machine president, providing us with a man whose first name, when translated into English, means “Be Happy”.
And when his mother named him Farai, she probably didn’t know that one fine day her son would help make an entire nation happy, as was the case on Sunday.
WE NOW KNOW WHAT WE CAN DO IF WE UNITE FOR A COMMON GOAL
But CAPS United can never claim monopoly of this success story, should never claim they did all this alone because, more than just being a project for our Champions League representatives, we all turned it into a national project where the entire country played its part in ensuring the Green Machine would be given the best chance to succeed.
Never, in the history of this tournament, has this newspaper gone so far, for the cause of a club side, fighting in its corner to ensure it was given a level playing field to pursue its dreams of Champions League success.
Never, in the history of this tournament, has this giant newspaper organisation embedded itself in a local football club, the way we did in the week leading to Sunday’s decisive game and it’s something that I should know because I have been here for a very long time, a quarter-of-a-century to be precise.
Of course, there were some people who sharply criticised us, when we unmasked Bernard Camille as TP Mazembe’s “Mr Fix-It”, the referee the Congolese giants and their CAF partners turned to whenever they wanted the Lubumbashi club to succeed, saying it was wrong for us to fight in the corner of a club as if it was our national team.
We expected that because on the minefield of domestic football where rivalries run very deep we knew there would be some, among us, who would celebrate should CAPS United fall and it’s something that is normal in the abnormality of this game and we weren’t surprised to see scores of locals wearing Mazembe T-shirts in the VVIP Enclosure at the giant stadium on Sunday.
But crucially, that didn’t sway us from doing what we felt was right, from playing a front-line role for the cause of a club that was fighting for our country and when our colleagues at The Sunday Mail continued with the campaign, telling Camille that they were also watching him, we felt relieved.
Pushed into a corner, into the spotlight, there was no way the Seychelles referee could afford to make the kind of questionable decisions — like those two ghost penalties he gave to Mazembe against Pirates — on Sunday.
And, when it had all ended, we were glad that he had given both teams a fair chance to win the match with a very professional job because that is all we expect from referees.
For us, what matters are the lessons that we learnt from the past two weeks, especially the fact that, when we are united as a nation for a common cause, for the same goal, nothing can stop us and not even five-time African champions, with a history of destroying Southern African football clubs, can defeat us.
Yes, let’s party Zimbabwe because this is our victory, it belongs to you guys and also to us — those Dynamos and Highlanders fans who came to support Makepekepe, the DeMbare boss who called on his fans to rally behind their arch enemy, the Air Force of Zimbabwe who made the players feel loved with those helicopters, ZIFA president Philip Chiyangwa for his coup in Ethiopia that ushered in a new order where clubs like Mazembe would now never be helped by their closeness to the old CAF leaders.
For me, it has been quite a week at the office with my workmates, including some I never thought would have any interest in football, bombarding me with congratulations every time I run into them in the lift, for doing the right thing, not for CAPS United, but for their country, with the way we approached our coverage for the game.
And on Thursday, tears almost came down my cheeks when Albert Nhamoyebonde, the director of the Mufakose Tennis Coaching Agency that produced some of the best black players to come out of this country, burst into my office to tell me he was proud of what we did and how he remained glued on his TV set on Sunday hoping for the best.
Now, when you consider that Albert is a lifelong Dynamos fan who once told me that his first outing with his wife, before their marriage, was to watch a DeMbare game and how she was just swept away by what she saw that afternoon, I guess you understand why it felt so special when he saluted me for fighting in CAPS United’s corner.
Come on guys, when we unite for a common cause, we can realise why we are the greatest nation on this planet.
And, as I told you last week, it’s not a coincidence we are the most educated people Africa has ever seen, and will ever see, the most resilient nation the world has ever seen, or will ever see, a people who have lived under the yoke of sanctions, but refuse to fall, a nation that was driven to the gates of hell by the worst hyper-inflation to hit a country since Nazi Germany during World War II, but still found a way back to earth.
A nation whose last rites have been read, again and again, but stubbornly refuses to die, a country of about just 15 million people that can provide the United States’ National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) with a visiting research fellow (jet propulsion lab) in Arthur Mutambara, the world’s third largest mining company, Lonmin, with its chief executive in Ben Magara, Emirates with its black African captain of the double-decker Airbus A380, the biggest and most sophisticated passenger plane in service in the world today, in Captain Matambanadzo Chakorera.
A small landlocked African nation on the southern tip of the world which is blessed by the Lord to ensure that, when those who created the game of cricket, the English, wanted a coach to help them end 18 years of the ultimate pain inflicted by their biggest rivals in the Ashes showdown, it had to be a Zimbabwean, Duncan Fletcher, who would engineer that triumph over Australia in September 2005.
I told you that show me a smaller African nation that has given the world a number one in golf, with three Majors to his credit, a European Cup winner in football, a serial winner of the English league championship, a world number one diver, a leading world number one swimmer, a leading mobile telecommunications entrepreneur and has the best climate in the world you can play cricket in winter then I will show you people who make a living selling coal to the Hwange Colliery Company, Chibuku Super to Delta Beverages or bread to Lobels Bakery.
Issa Hayatou now knows us and Moise Katumbi now understands that the world doesn’t call us Warriors for nothing.
TO GOD BE THE GLORY!
Come on CAPS United!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Rooneyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy (pity he isn’t playing)
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Article Source: The Herald