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DR Congo's TP Mazembe fight for survival in Champions League

AFP , Monday 18 Apr 2016
TP Mazembe of DR Congo
Mazembe risk early elimination from the competition they won in 2015 (File photo: Reuters)

French coach Hubert Velud described the players of Democratic Republic of Congo club and African champions TP Mazembe as "incredible professionals" when he was hired this year.

The blond 56-year-old former goalkeeper hopes they live up to that praise Wednesday when trying to overturn a 2-0 CAF Champions League last 16 first leg defeat by Wydad Casablanca in Morocco.

At stake is a place in the lucrative group phase for the overall winners while the losers descend to play-offs in the second-tier CAF Confederation Cup.

The clubs also met in a last 16 tie five years ago with Wydad winning 1-0 at home and losing 2-0 away only to be reinstated when Mazembe were kicked out for using an ineligible player.

Wydad went on to finish runners-up, the second best showing by the club from the Moroccan commercial capital after winning the 1992 competition.

Mazembe have been much more successful, winning the premier African club competition in 1967, 1968, 2009, 2010 and last year.

But the African form this year of the Ravens from southern Congolese city Lubumbashi has been underwhelming in defence of a title worth $1.5 million (1.3 million euros) to the winners.

They needed the help of an own goal to draw 2-2 with modest Saint George in Ethiopia and took 85 minutes to score the lone second leg goal via a Jonathan Bolingi penalty.

After falling behind just before halftime in Casablanca to an Abdellatif Noussir goal, Reda Hajhouj converted a second half penalty amid Mazembe protests that the foul was outside the box.

Previously successful with Moroccan and Algerian clubs, former Togo handler Velud accepts that he faces one of his greatest coaching challenges.

"Winning trophies is a habit at Mazembe and you are aware of that although I was not given specific objectives when signing a one-year contract," he said.

"Continual success in the CAF Champions League is very important to Mazembe because winning the competition secures a place in the Fifa Club World Cup."

Wydad coach, twice Real Madrid manager and former Liverpool and Wales striker John Toshack has mixed emotions ahead of the second leg at the 20 000-seat Stade TP Mazembe.

"Our first leg performance was among the best since I joined the club two years ago, but it is likely to be a very different game in DR Congo.

"We will be playing on an artificial surface in an atmosphere unique to Africa. What does count in our favour is not conceding at home."

While Hajhouj poses an obvious threat with five CAF goals this season, Mazembe have yet to find a successor to Tanzania striker Mbwana Aly Samatta, who has moved to Belgium.

Mazembe and Wydad are among nine Champions League winners seeking group places and just one of the eight second legs does not involve a title-holder.

Enyimba of Nigeria defend a 3-0 lead over Etoile Sahel in Tunisia thanks to a first leg hat-trick from Mfon Udoh, leading scorer in the competition this season with seven goals.

A brace by DR Congo-born Idris Mbombo has put Zambian outfit Zesco United in a favourable position as they host Stade Malien of Mali holding a 3-1 advantage.

Mamelodi Sundowns of South Africa hope Colombian Leonardo Castro and Zimbabwean Khama Billiat can transfer sparkling domestic form to Africa as they strive to overcome a 1-0 defeat by V Club in DR Congo.

Egyptian giants Al Ahly and Zamalek, winners of 13 Champions League titles between them, should progress under one-time English Premier League managers.

Former Tottenham Hotspur manager Martin Jol handles Ahly, who enjoy home advantage over Young Africans after drawing 1-1 in Tanzania.

Ex-Birmingham City and Aston Villa manager Alex McLeish guides a Zamalek team that will defend in Algeria a 2-0 lead over Mouloudia Bejaia.

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