A karate-style lunge at a ref in Rwanda and a drubbing in Tunisia helped transform TP Mazembe into FIFA Club World Cup finalists.
The “Crows,” based in Lubumbashi in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, stunned Internacional of Brazil 2-0 in the world championship semi-finals and face Inter of Italy today for the title.
The Club World Cup was far from the minds of the Congolese last May when a regional championship game against APR of Rwanda went horribly wrong.
Mazembe repeatedly complained to the referee about the physical approach of their opponents and when a penalty appeal was turned down, Mazembe talisman Mabi Mputu protested so intensely he was red carded.
Furious Mputu had to be pulled toward the touchline by his teammates, but escaped their clutches, raced after the referee, only for teammate Basisila Lusadisu to reach the official first and floor him with a karate kick.
Mputu also struck the official at the Kigali National Stadium and was slapped with a one-year ban, while Lusadisu got 11 months.
Losing Mputu, voted last year’s Africa-based Footballer of the Year by the Confederation of African Football, was considered a crippling blow, but the team adjusted to life without him.
Last month they crushed Esperance of Tunisia 6-1 on aggregate to equal the record winning margin for an African Champions League final.
Esperance drubbed Mazembe 3-0 in the group phase in August triggering a Congolese coaching shake-up, with Lamine N’Diaye replacing Diego Garzitto.
The impact was immediate, with Mazembe unbeaten for the rest of the competition.
Moise Katumbi, the governor of the Katanga Province of which Lubumbashi is the capital, is the mastermind behind Mazembe.
“The reasons for our success are many. The most important ones are the discipline of the players and the support from our people and the president of the country [Joseph Kabila],” he said.