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African Football League Preview: TP Mazembe

The inaugural edition of the African Football League (AFL) is off and running with eight of the continent’s top clubs battling it out to add another trophy to their cabinets. Pan-Africa Football is previewing each team at the AFL and next up below is a closer look at the kings of Congolese football and five-time African club champions, TP Mazembe:

Background

With a record of nineteen top division titles in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lubumbashi based club TP Mazembe are the historically most successful club from sub-Saharan Africa. The Ravens have won five African club titles and captivated the world with a run to the final of the 2010 FIFA Club World Cup where they fell to Italy’s Inter Milan to finish as runners-up, the best finish for an African club at the competition.

In recent years the star of Mazembe has faded a bit with the club deciding to focus on developing players through its youth academy rather than the glory days when it acquired talent from throughout Africa in addition to top Congolese players. After a couple of difficult years for Congolese football that impacted Mazembe’s ability to make an impact in African club competition, the Ravens are poised to announce that they are still a major power in African football at the AFL.

Schedule

Quarterfinals

1st Leg- vs Espérance ST on October 22 in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

2nd Leg- @ Espérance ST on October 25 in Tunis

Notable Arrivals and Departures

Arrivals

MF Jean Diouf (SEN)- Transfer from Génération Foot (SEN)

DF Mor Talla Mbaye (SEN)- Transfer from Génération Foot (SEN)

DF Ibrahima Keita (MRT)- Transfer from FC 93 Bobigny (FRA)

MF Louis Ameka (GAB)- Transfer from Maghreb Fez (MAR)

GK Aliou Badara Faty (SEN)- Transfer from Casa Sports (SEN)

FW Rabih Ataya (LEB)- Transfer from Nejmeh SC (LEB)

DF Amadou Zon (BFA)- Transfer from AS Douanes (BFA)

FW Boubacar Hainikoye (NER)- Transfer from USGN (NER)

FW Cheick Fofana (MLI)- Transfer from Real Bamako (MLI)

Departures

FW Thomas Ulimwengu (TZA)- Transfer to Singida Fountain Gate (TZA)

DF Issam Mpeko (COD)- Transfer to Saint-Éloi Lupopo (COD)

DF Abdul Ganiyu (GHA)- Transfer to Dire Dawa City (ETH)

DF Atte Youssifou (TOG)- Released

GK Narcisse Nlend (CMR)- Released

MF Rainford Kalaba (ZAM)- Retired

MF Ahmed Kendouci (DZA)- Loan to Ceramica Cleopatra (EGY)

DF Ayman Ashraf (EGY)- Free transfer to Bank Al Ahly (EGY)

GK Ali Lotfi (EGY)- Free transfer to ZED FC (EGY)

FW Luís Miquissone (MOZ)- Free transfer to Simba SC (TZA)

Head Coach- Lamine N’Diaye

The Senegalese coach was in charge when Mazembe made their magical run to the final of the 2010 FIFA Club World Cup and after time spent with Al-Hilal Omdurman in Sudan as well as Guinean giants Horoya AC, he is back in charge of the Ravens since April. The 67-year-old spent most of his playing days in French football and represented Senegal at the 1990 and 1992 editions of the Africa Cup of Nations, also coaching the Teranga Lions at the 2008 edition.

Under N’Diaye, Mazembe are undefeated through six matches in the 2023-24 edition of DR Congo’s top division Linafoot without conceding a goal and also advanced past Malawian champions Big Bullets to qualify for the 2023-24 CAF Champions League group stage without issue. With a few notable signings before the current season, Mazembe are in good form and appear ready to make noise in the AFL.

Goalkeeping

There are no shortage of options between the posts for coach N’Diaye but it appears that incumbent Baggio Siadi is maintaining his role as the preferred choice. The 26-year-old played in all three matches for DR Congo at the 2022 African Nations Championship (CHAN) and has also represented his country in Africa Cup of Nations qualifying matches.

New acquisition Aliou Badara Faty is a towering option who is a backup with the Senegal national team and arrives after years of success with Senegalese club Casa Sports, winning the domestic double with league and cup titles in 2022. At the moment it appears that the job is Siadi’s to lose despite Badara Faty’s arrival.

Defense

Kévin Mondeko arrived at Mazembe in 2016 as a 21-year-old prospect and has grown to become the team captain as well as a member of the DR Congo national team

With the decline of a couple of long established stars in the defense, Mazembe are in the process of rebuilding the unit but one constant remains. Central defender Kévin Mondeko is the anchor who has experienced both the glory days as well as some of the more difficult times like during last season’s CAF Confederation Cup campaign when Mazembe could only earn three points in the group stage. The captain of the team, Mondeko joined his club goalkeeper Siadi on the DR Congo CHAN team in 2022 and has an outside chance of being called to the Leopards for their 2023 Africa Cup of Nations campaign.

Fullback Issama Mpeko, a prominent member of the team for a long period, moved on to a new club and his replacement at the right back position appears to be 21-year-old Mauritania national team fullback Ibrahima Keita. On the other flank there is competition between another new signing, Senegalese defender Mor Talla Mbaye, and established Congolese veteran Ernest Luzolo who is likely to get the nod from N’Diaye.

Midfield

Central midfielder Glody Likonza is another Congolese player who established himself in the Mazembe team after years of service, also earning a loan move to Belgian club Standard Liège for five months during the 2021-22 season

Midfield is one of the areas where Mazembe do not look as intimidating as the club formerly did during their glory years. However, 25-year-old Congolese player Glody Likonza remains as an excellent option who can operate in any role with good vision and abilities to contribute both offensively and defensively. Boaz Ngalamulume and Nigerien player Ousseini Badamassi are candidates to partner Likonza but Zemanga Sozé is another player with experience at this level who offers a bit more technique than the two alternatives.

Higher up in the midfield, Philippe Kinzumbi and Merceil Ngimbi are wingers who can contribute to the attack. Kinzumbi offers speed and dribbling ability while Ngimbi is a more technical option who can provide excellent service for the forwards. New signing Louis Ameka, a member of the Gabon national team, is also earning more minutes since arriving and Nigerian midfielder Augustine Oladapo has a reputation for powerful shooting earned during his time at Nigerian giants Enyimba.

Forwards

Malian forward Cheikh Fofana (on the left) is making an instant impact since joining Mazembe from top Malian club Real Bamako. Could the 19-year-old become a name to remember at the AFL?

Mazembe have plenty of young forwards who continue to battle for minutes but 19-year-old Malian striker Cheikh Fofana might be the player they turn to for goals in the AFL. The former has already scored a few goals this season including two goals in the CAF Champions League qualifying stages. Congolese forward Joël Beya is a candidate to start up top with Fofana while there are other options such as Zambian forward Alex Ngonga, Niger national team striker Boubacar Haïnikoye and young Congolese player John Bakata to earn minutes.

Prognosis

It is an interesting quarterfinal matchup between Mazembe and Espérance, two clubs who each have an amazing history but are currently in a transitional phase. At this point it is difficult to expect Mazembe to advance past EST but competing in the AFL will be a valuable experience for the younger players at the club and will give a good indication of what to expect from Mazembe in the group stage of the 2023-24 CAF Champions League.

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