The four winners of the last four Caf Champions Leagues will contest this year’s semi-finals, where five-time champions Tout Puissant Mazembe may appear to be outsiders.
The Ravens may have completed a Confederation Cup double in 2016 and 2017, but they’re approaching two years without a domestic title, and haven’t got their hands on Africa’s biggest prize since 2015.
They were eliminated from last term’s Champions League at the quarter-final stage as they were eliminated by Angola’s Primeiro de Agosto on away goals.
Domestically, they’ve been unable to maintain their dominance in the Linafoot, as rivals AS Vita Club beat them to win last season’s title and are currently leading the table this year.
Aware of Esperance’s imposing home form, Mazembe will be desperate to limit the damage when they travel to Rades for the semi-final first leg on Saturday, ahead of the return meeting in Lubumbashi on May 4.
Les Corbeaux’s impressive home form will always make them a threat in the continent, as they demonstrated against Simba in the previous round where, after a stalemate in the first leg, they thrashed Wekundu wa Msimbazi in the return fixture.
Despite conceding inside two minutes, Mazembe held their nerve and—buoyed by their supporters—went on to hit four past Simba.
The two continental heavyweights are neck and neck in the head to head stats, with the pair having each won two, drawn two and lost two of their previous six meetings.
However, Pamphile Mihayo’s side will take encouragement from their 2010 final showing against the Tunisians, when they demolished Esperance 5-0 at home in the first leg before a 1-1 draw in North Africa secured the title.
While Mazembe haven’t featured in the latter stages of the Caf CL for several years, this collective do have experience of dealing with high-profile and high-pressure matches in the Confed Cup.
Historically, they also have the edge on Esperance, with five African titles, compared to three for Esperance.
The Congolese will also want to exploit the absences of Tunisian internationals Anice Badri and Mohamed Ali Yacoubi, ruled out of the first leg in Rades due to injury.
“This year, we want to win the Champions League trophy – the whole team believes in it. A title will do us good and it’s important for us,” the 43-year-old told the club’s official website.
It hasn’t been plain sailing for Mazembe so far this season, and they were notably thumped 3-0 away at CS Constantine in the group stage.
However, their 8-0 demolition of Club Africain in Lubumbashi in February sent ripples across the continent, and no team in the rest of the group stage scored more than their 13 goals.
Tresor Mputu is enjoying an Indian summer to his career, and has weighed in with five goals in the competition so far.
Similarly, Joseph Ochaya is thriving ahead of a Nations Cup campaign with Uganda, and has played his part in a strong defensive showing.
After winning the Champions League three times in six seasons from 2009, Mazembe’s drought will extend to four years if they don’t get over the line this time around.
Competition is fierce, with all four teams boasting championship credentials, but Les Corbeaux can be quietly confident that their home advantage will give them the edge in the matches to come.
Words - Daniel Ekonde