Sun, Nov 06, 2016 - Page 12 News List

Kalaba key to Mazembe’s Confederation Cup hopes


TP Mazembe’s Faouzi Rahal, right, kicks the ball past Bejaia’s Salif Coulibably in the first leg of their CAF Confederation Cup final in Blida, Algeria, on Oct. 29.

Photo: AFP

Leading scorer and captain Rainford Kalaba could be a key figure when Congolese club TP Mazembe seek a CAF Confederation Cup title today.

The star-studded Lubumbashi “Ravens” are favored after forcing a 1-1 draw at star-less Mouloudia Bejaia of Algeria last weekend in the first leg of the final.

Overall success would make Mazembe the second most successful club in CAF competitions with 10 triumphs. Al Ahly of Egypt boast 19 titles.

Bejaia, promoted to top-flight Algerian soccer only three years ago, are African debutants and hoping to become the first winners of the second-tier competition from the north African state.

Winger Kalaba has been in outstanding form at the 20,000-capacity Stade TP Mazembe in the heart of the southern Congolese mining region, with five goals from three CAF outings.

He bagged braces against Medeama of Ghana and Young Africans of Tanzania and scored the goal that earned Mazembe a 1-0 win over Bejaia at the group stage.

Kalaba also scored away to Medeama and his six-goal haul makes him scoring coleader in the Confederation Cup this season with Arsenio “Love” Cabungula of Angolan outfit Sagrada Esperanca.

Bejaia were alert to the threat the diminutive 29-year-old Zambian posed in the first leg and he rarely had a chance to exhibit his nimble footwork or predatory instincts.

Congolese Jonathan Bolingi could be another threat to Bejaia with his four goals this season, including one from a penalty that gave Mazembe the lead in Algeria.

Bejaia captain Faouzi Yaya equalized after halftime from another set piece, a medium-distance free-kick that left goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo helpless.

Yaya could have finished the first leg with four goals, as he wasted three second-half chances, including a one-on-one against the Mazembe shot-stopper.

Although Mazembe boast a 15 win, one draw Confederation Cup home record since debuting in 2004, upstarts Bejaia are convinced they can upset the odds and stun an expected capacity crowd.

“We matched our illustrious opponents in the first leg and travel to Lubumbashi full of confidence,” midfielder Yaya told Algerian media.

“Why should we be discouraged? Our chances of winning the Confederation Cup are intact. We will prepare well for the second leg and can cause a shock,” Yaya added.

Mouloudia coach and former Algeria defender Nacer Sandjak also believes the outcome remains in the balance.

“My team have been written off so many times this season in the Confederation Cup and repeatedly confounded the critics,” Sandjak said.

“A good example of our amazing spirit was eliminating FUS Rabat in the semi-finals, despite trailing with one minute of regular time remaining in Morocco,” Sandjak added.

France-born Mazembe coach Hubert Velud remains uncomfortable with being favorites to win a CAF competition for the second successive season by beating an Algerian club.

Last year, the Ravens defeated USM Alger 2-1 away and 2-0 at home in a one-sided CAF Champions League final under another French coach, Patrice Carteron.

“A score draw in Algeria was a good result, but we remain wary of Bejaia, because they are a good, strong side,” the 57-year-old former goalkeeper said.

“The stakes are high and I have warned my squad that one mistake by either team could prove decisive. The fact that we are more experienced than Bejaia counts for little,” he added.

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