JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - A karate-style lunge at a referee in Rwanda and a drubbing in Tunisia helped transform TP Mazembe from FIFA Club World Cup flops to finalists within one year.
The black and white-clad 'Crows' based in southern Democratic Republic of Congo mining hub Lubumbashi stunned Internacional of Brazil 2-0 in the world championship semi-finals and face Inter Milan of Italy on Saturday for the title.
Mazembe, the only club to twice successfully defend the African Champions League, are the first team outside of Europe or South America to make the climax of the 10-year tournament.
Reaching the final marks a spectacular u-turn for the Congolese as they finished sixth of seven challengers in their first appearance last year with only Al-Ahly from host nation United Arab Emirates faring worse.
But the Club World Cup in the multi-skyscraper UAE city of Abu Dhabi was far from the minds of the Congolese last May when a regional championship game against host club APR of Rwanda went horribly wrong.
'Guest' competitors Mazembe repeatedly complained to the referee about the over-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 team-mates, but escaped their clutches, raced after the refereee only for team-mate Basisila Lusadisu to reach the official first and floor him with a karate kick.
Midfielder-cum-captain-cum leading scorer Mputu also struck the official at the Kigali National Stadium and was slapped with a one-year worldwide ban by FIFA while Lusadisu got 11 months.
Losing Mputu, a 25-year-old voted 2009 Africa-based Footballer of the Year by CAF, was considered a crippling blow to the African ambitions of Mazembe, but the team adjusted to life without him and retained the title in style.
They needed the away-goal rule to edge Heartland of Nigeria in the 2009 final, but last month crushed Esperance of Tunisia 6-1 on aggregate to equal the record winning margin for an African Champions League final.
Esperance played a significant part in their downfall by drubbing Mazembe 3-0 in the group phase last August that triggered a Congolese coaching shake-up with Senegalese Lamine N'Diaye replacing Franco-Italian Diego Garzitto.
The impact was immediate with the screws in a leaky defence tightened and Mazembe remained unbeaten for the rest of the competition and forced three draws in North Africa, the graveyard of many a sub-Saharan club.
"Mourinho ... Mourinho" chanted Mazembe supporters in the capacity 35,000 Municipal Stadium crowd after the five-goal, first-leg final demolition of Esperance.
While the 54-year-old Senegalese coach must have appreciated being compared to the 'Special One', the humble Mazembe handler is a man of few words and a simple philosophy.
Veteran goalkeeper Muteba Kidiaba explained: "Our coach believes in hard work because without that talent is useless, and total concentration because without that hard work is pointless."
Moise Katumbi, a tall, elegantly dressed man in his mid-40s with close cropped hair, is the mastermind behind Mazembe, a club formed 71 years ago by Benedictine monks in the then Belgian-ruled country.
Born into a wealthy family, he is the results-driven governor of the Katanga province of which Lubumbashi is capital and has fishing, mining, television and transport interests.
"Mazembe carries the hopes of the Congolese people," says a man involved with the 'Crows' since he was seven, served as president for the last 13 years and owns 60 percent of the shares with another 30 percent in public hands.
"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)."
|Mata hopes for Mourinho arrival|
|Welbeck disappointed with goals tally|
|UEFA Champions League Preview: Borussia Dortmund v Bayern Munich|
|Zabaleta excited by Pellegrini|
|Ramos: Bale is ´Real Madrid-quality´|
|Hart urges City to go forward|
|Copa Libertadores Wrap: Santa Fe earn away win|
|Fiorentina reject Jovetic rumours|
|Piszczek set for post-season surgery|
|Adriano signs Barca extension|
|International Friendly: Venezuela 2 El Salvador 1|
|Bundesliga chief slams Qatar World Cup scheduling|
|Gignac wants Barton to stay|
|Ramsey, Walcott hail Wenger´s achievements|
|Loew regrets timing of German finale|
|Mourinho and Ronaldo given two-match bans|
|AFC Champions League Wrap: Lekhwiya hold on to progress|
|Thomas, Jara released by West Brom|
|Martinez to decide future|
|Pearce: Championship will not hold back McCarthy|
|Pulis: I understand Stoke´s decision|
|Vidic reflects on ´amazing´ season|
|Bale: Spurs will bounce back|
|Petrov to become academy coach at Aston Villa|
|De Laurentiis begins search for Mazzarri replacement|
|New York City FC appoint Reyna|
|Pardew: We should try emulate Liverpool|
|Ribery: Bayern stronger than Dortmund|
|Conte building for the future at Juventus|
|Bundesliga Play-off Preview: Hoffenheim v Kaiserslautern|
|Ibrahimovic coy on PSG future|
|Goetze to miss Champions League final|
|Giroud wants better European showing from Arsenal|
|Chelsea´s England players to leave tour early|
|Fiorentina capture Yakovenko|
|Pellegrini and Malaga to part company|
|Fulham sign Boateng|
|Green wants first-team football at QPR|
|Britton set for surgery|
|Neville interested in Everton job|
|Holloway: Brighton incident motivated Palace players|
|Rodgers confident of keeping Suarez at Liverpool|
|Eredivisie Preview: Twente v Utrecht|
|Etherington praises Pulis´ work at Stoke|
|Vlaar excited for new season at Aston Villa|
|Badstuber sidelined for 10 months after knee surgery|
|Clichy: Manchester City were right to sack Mancini|
|Cole set for West Ham departure|
|Lampard: It was tough under Benitez|
|Mourinho branded a ´failure´|
|Carroll out of England squad|
|Nasri throws support behind Pellegrini|
|Kewell unhappy with Australia omission|
|Messi: Neymar would be a wonderful addition|
|Doll: Dortmund are not underdogs|
|AFC Champions League Wrap: Seoul, Buriram, Al Ahli, Al Shabab advance|
|Pulis leaves Stoke|
|Sanogo relishing Arsenal move|
|Galtier signs extension at Saint-Etienne|
|Baines explains appearance record|
|Pulis future in doubt amid exit rumours|
|Swansea coach Tucker praises goalkeepers|
|West Ham sign Rat|
|McAuley eager to keep improving|
|Ribery keen to end career at Bayern|
|Reina plays down Barcelona speculation|
|De Boer agrees new Ajax deal|
|Sheffield United make McCall move|
|Heldt: Schalke interested in Santana|
|Messi urges Barcelona not to change|
|Manchester City agree MLS club deal with New York Yankees|
|Cech confident Chelsea will attract big names|
|Blackman urges Reading to be more ruthless|
|Montanier leaves Sociedad for Rennes|
|Rodgers pleased with Coutinho impact|
|Leonardo: Ibrahimovic and Silva to stay|
|Carroll thanks West Hams fans after loan spell|
|De Laurentiis confirms Dzeko interest|
|Wilshere dreams of England captaincy|
|Mourinho a ´scourge´ on Spanish football|
|Moratti will not rush decision on Stramaccioni´s future|
|Klopp warns Dortmund stars about leaving|
|Schneiderlin backs Southampton to improve|
|Podolski delighted with fourth spot|
|Sigurdsson targets improvement at Tottenham|
|Di Canio criticised by PFA chief|
|Steaua owner Becali jailed for three years|
|Hummels pledges future to Dortmund|
|Retiring Ferguson ´overwhelmed´ by recognition|
|J.League Preview: Top three expected to win|
|Argentine Primera Division Wrap: Tigre earn point at Lanus|
|Galtier wants Ancelotti to stay|
|Pique, Barca playing for record haul|
|Gazidis, Arsenal target silverware|
|Juan plots Inter redemption|
|Gibbs wants to build on strong finish|
|Racism will not drive out Drogba|
|Martinez coy on Wigan future|
|Fernandinho still seeking City switch|
|Roberto Carlos set to coach Sivasspor|
|Ferguson named LMA Manager of the Year|