TP Mazembe became the first African team to reach the Club World Cup final on Tuesday, upsetting Copa Libertadores champions Internacional of Brazil 2-0.
The side from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, nicknamed the Crows, broke the deadlock in the 53rd minute, with striker Mulota Kabangu controlling a knockdown in the area, before placing a right-foot shot into the top corner past flat-footed goalkeeper Renan.
Dioko Kaluyituka sealed the victory in the 85th minute by beating Renan at his near post with a driven shot from just outside the area.
“This is a day of pride and we have succeeded,” Mazembe coach Lamine N’Diaye said. “I believe our players, who I trained and played with every day, are of high standard and achieved a great victory. This is good for the Congolese people. All Africans should be proud of this team.”
In Saturday’s final, Mazembe will face the winner of the second semi-final between European champions Inter and Asian champions Seongnam Ilhwa.
Internacional were the better side in the early stages, transfixing the opposition with slick passing and controlling the majority of the possession in the first half.
Mazembe goalkeeper Muteba Kidiaba somehow saved a Rafael Sobis shot from close range after eight minutes, before midfielder Tinga headed his side’s best chance over the bar 10 minutes later, but Internacional failed to make the breakthrough and in the second half, Mazembe began to look dangerous on the counterattack as the Brazilian side pushed forward.
Mazembe came into the tournament without star striker Tresor Mputu, who has been banned for a year for assaulting a referee, but Kabangu made up for his absence with a goal of quality to put his side ahead. A physical player with a blonde mohawk, Kabangu was by far Mazembe’s most dangerous threat, firing three other shots on target, including one in the opening minutes that caught Renan by surprise.
Once the frenetic Mazembe celebrations died down, Internacional went back on the attack, but shot after shot was denied by the inspirational Kidiaba and Kaluyituka took advantage of the spaces left behind in the Internacional defense to wrap up the win.
Internacional coach Celso Roth, whose side have struggled domestically coming into the match, defended his team’s attacking strategy and praised Kidiaba’s performance.
“We created opportunities, but unfortunately we couldn’t turn them into goals. Mazembe had the opportunities and scored,” Roth said. “Football is like this. Mazembe defended very well and I -congratulate them. We played much better than them, but we have this very bitter defeat.”
Mazembe, dubbed the Chelsea of Africa by the media for their big-spending ways in the impoverished country, have been a dominant force in Congolese soccer over the past 30 years, winning 10 championships. They demolished Esperance Sportive de Tunis 6-1 to win a second continental championship in two years and beat Pachuca of Mexico 1-0 in the Club World Cup quarter-finals.
Outside Africa, though, the club is little known and they were given little chance against Internacional.
Mazembe lost both their matches in last year’s tournament and were not expected to -overturn a tradition that always has the European and South American champions in the final.
The players seemed to take their underdog status personally, with captain Kazembe Mihayo insisting that Tuesday’s historic victory would not only raise the profile of African soccer, but also force other teams and the media “to give them more respect.”
Mazembe’s victory caps a big year for soccer on the continent, following South Africa’s successful hosting of the World Cup and the performance at the tournament of Ghana, who knocked out the US to reach the quarter-finals.