‘WE’ARE A HEAVY WEIGHT’

Farai Jere

Farai Jere

Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor—
CAPS United president Farai Jere believes TP Mazembe’s qualification for the 2017 CAF Confederation Cup final – without losing a game in the dozen matches they have played in the tournament – has put into context the quality of his Green Machine and the success of their adventure on the continent this year. The Congolese giants have transformed themselves into one of the powerhouses of African club football in the past eight years in what has been a golden phase for them in which they have been crowned African champions three times, won the CAF Confederation Cup once, the CAF Super Cup three times and were runners-up in the FIFA Club World once in 2010.

On Saturday night, TP Mazembe powered into their second straight CAF Confederation Cup final after holding Moroccan giants FUS Rabat to a goalless draw in Rabat to successfully protect their one-goal lead from the first leg of their semi-final showdown in Lubumbashi.

TP Mazembe are hoping to defend the CAF Confederation Cup crown they won last year, with a crushing 5-2 aggregate demolition of Algerian side MO Bejaia, and remain unbeaten in the 12 matches they have played in the second-tier inter-club tournament this season.

The Lubumbashi side, who were one of the heavyweights tipped to be crowned African champions this year, fell by the wayside after they were relegated into the CAF Confederation Cup following an elimination in the final qualifier for the group stages of the CAF Champions League by CAPS United.

However, TP Mazembe have been impressive in this year’s CAF Confederation Cup, comfortably knocking out former African champions JS Kabylie – Algeria’s most successful football club with 14 league titles and five Algeria Cup titles, two African champions titles, one CAF Cup Winners Cup title and three CAF Cup titles – 2-0 on aggregate in the play-off round.

The Congolese giants then finished top of their group after winning three and drawing three of their matches before thrashing Al Hilal Al-Ubayyid of Sudan 7-1 on aggregate in the quarter-finals and then eliminating FUS Rabat of Morocco 1-0 on aggregate in the semi-finals.

They are now set to face South African side SuperSport United who brewed a shocker by beating Club African 3-1 in Tunisia in the second leg of their semi-final showdown on Sunday night to qualify for the final 4-2 on aggregate.

The two clubs met in the group stages and both their matches ended in draws with the game in Pretoria ending in a goalless draw while Zimbabwean coach Kaitano Tembo, SuperSport United assistant coach, guided his men to an impressive 2-2 draw in Lubumbashi at a time when he was caretaker coach of the South African team.

Zimbabwe international footballers – Onismor Bhasera and Kingston Nkhatha – played in both matches with Warriors wing-back Bhasera playing the entire 90 minutes in Lubumbashi while Nkhatha came in as a replacement for Bradley Grobler in the 82nd minute.

Bhasera, who is currently recovering from long-term injury, also started in the reverse fixture in Pretoria but was pulled out in the 46th minute for New Zealand forward Jeremy Brockie while Nkhatha also come in the 74th minute of that goalless draw.

Jere told The Herald on Sunday, moments after delivering a powerful graveside speech at Zororo Park Memorial Cemetery outside Chitungwiza during the burial of CAPS United legend and former Zimbabwe international striker Friday Phiri, TP Mazembe’s success also told the story of the quality of his Green Machine and their success on their return to football on the continent.

CAPS United and FUS Rabat have been the only two clubs, in seven matches in the CAF Champions League and CAF Confederation Cup this year, to restrict TP Mazembe to, at least, a goal, in the Congolese giants backyard in Lubumbashi this season.

Other clubs have conceded more than a goal in their battles in Lubumbashi where TP Mazembe have scored five against Al Hilal Al-Ubayyid, two against Guinea side Horoya, who have an African Cup Winners Cup winners’ medal in their cabinet, two against SuperSport United in their 2-2 draw, and two against CF Mounana of Gabon in a 2-0 win for the Congolese.

The Green Machine were the first club to take the lead at the Stade du Mazembe in Lubumbashi in either a CAF Champions League or a CAF Confederation Cup match in three years since Abdelmalek Ziaya thrust Algerian giants ES Setif into the lead on September 28, 2014, in a CAF Champions League semi-final match. TP Mazembe won that match 3-2 but bowed out on the away goals rule.

Since then, 21 of the continent’s finest clubs, including Mamelodi Sundowns, Al Hilal, AS Vita, USM Alger, El Merrikh, Stade Malien, Wydad Casablanca and Etoile du Sahel had found the task of taking the lead, let alone holding out for a draw, in Lubumbashi virtually impossible.

‘‘I think when you look at the success which TP Mazembe have achieved in the CAF Confederation Cup, where they are now in the final, you can see the quality of the team that we have at this club to have been able to eliminate such a giant when we met them in the CAF Champions League,’’ Jere said.

‘‘When we scored first in Lubumbashi and then held on to a draw, missing even a good chance to win the match, some people dismissed the result as a fluke draw, but we showed our quality to preserve our advantage when we held the same team in Harare to eliminate them from the Champions League.

‘‘I believe the special group of players we had this year have not been given the credit they deserve, standing toe-to-toe with the giants of the game in Africa, thrashing five-time African champions Zamalek 3-1 in Harare and beating USM Alger of Algeria, who also reached the semi-finals of the CAF Champions League.

‘‘But results don’t lie and look at the way TP Mazembe have been destroying opposition, going all the way to the final of the CAF Confederation Cup, and you can see that we are not a bad team and our league is not as bad as some people would like to say.’’ Jere also took the occasion to salute scores of Dynamos fans who came to bid farewell to the Green Machine legend, Friday Phiri.

‘‘I have always said that we might be the greatest rivals on the pitch, and we always remind them of that seven-goal thumping we inflicted on them, but we are good neighbours off it and we are bound by our identity as Zimbabweans,’’ said Jere.

‘‘That is why I saluted the Dynamos fans who have come in their club colours today to bid farewell to our hero because they have shown that we might be divided by our rivalry, but we are still one family because we are all Zimbabweans.’’

Article Source: The Herald