By Isidore Lewis
Ten-men Mazembe of Congo held on to record an historic 1 0 victory against Mexican side Pachuca in the FIFA Club World Cup quarter-final on Friday evening.
Bedi Mbenza’s first-half goal was in the end enough for the Lubumbasi-based side, who held on despite having a man sent off in the second half. The Crows, as they are known in Congo, will now take on South American Champions Internacional in the semi-final of the tournament.
Mazembe had the first real chance of the match when, after just 2 minutes, forward Given Singuluma headed a far-post header just over the bar; and just moments later, Singuluma struck again, this time his low effort was comfortably saved by Pacucha goalkeeper and captain, Miguel Calero.
Mazembe continued to cause problems early on, notably through Mulota Kabangu, whose strength and lively presence in attack proved a constant threat for the Africans.
Pachucha eventually managed to get into the game through Braulio Luna and creative midfielder Damian Alejandro Manso, both of whom seemed to be finding plenty of space on the left side of midfield.
And it was from that left side that Pachuca very nearly took the lead after 17 minutes, Manso’s superb 20-yard volley struck the post and bounced clear after some nice work from the smallest man on the field, American Jose Francisco Torres.
The breakthrough eventually came for Mazembe when, midway through the first-half, Kabangu flicked a neat ball through to Bedi Mbenza, who smashed the ball in from inside the penalty area.
Pachuca did threaten to respond before half-time. Manso was once again at the heart of the action, blasting a free-kick just wide and, moments later, drilling a low cross into the box for Torres to score, only for the goal to be ruled offside.
Mazembe very nearly added a second when some sloppy passing by Pachuca gifted Dioko Kaluyituka the chance to launch a counter attack. His ball found Singuluma on the left who drilled the ball across the goalkeeper but wide of the goal.
The second half started a lot more positively for Pachuca. Torres and Paul Aguilar both sent shots wide before Raul Martinez’s splendid long-distance drive rocketed against the post.
With 70 minutes gone, Bedi’s left-footed volley for Mazembe was well saved by Calero. However, from the resulting corner, Pachuca broke, only for Alizara to curl his effort just wide.
With less than twenty minutes to go, Pachuca introduced another American international, Herculez Gomez, who put in some promising crosses despite being deployed somewhat out of position on the right side of midfield.
And when, with nine minutes to go Stopilla Sunzu was sent off for a second yellow card, Mazembe faced a nerve-wracking final period. However, the Congo side held on for the victory, sparking jubilant scenes at the final whistle. The result makes them only the third African team ever to have made the last four of the Club World Cup.