Caf Champions League soccer holders TP Mazembe from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) face by far their sternest test in their title defence at home against high-riding JS Kabylie of Algeria Sunday afternoon.
Les Corbeaux (The Crows) will again be without their talismanic skipper Tresor Mabi Mputu, who was banned for a year by Fifa following a fracas in a regional tournament earlier in the year.
Mazembe president Moise Katumbi has admitted that the absence of the talented midfielder may well cost them this year’s title.
“Tresor is Tresor, he’s the kind of player who you get to see once in 20, 30 years. With him in the team, we have 99% of retaining our trophy. Without him, we will have to fight,” lamented moneybag Katumbi, the DRC equivalent of Roman Abramovich of Chelsea.
Without Mputu for their last four matches, Mazembe finished behind Esperance with 11 points in Group A.
Last year, the highly-rated Mputu inspired Mazembe to their third African Champions crown at the expense of Nigeria’s Heartland and it was widely believed he would then take his game to Europe, where he has not been short of suitors.
Politician and businessman Katumbi, who has since appealed against Mputu’s ban, has used his immense resources to woo some of Africa’s top stars like Given Sunguluma and Emmanuel Mbola from Zambia and Narcisse Ekanga from Cameroon to the Stade de la Kenya in Lubumbashi.
He follows the team to their away games overseas and his generosity is legendary.
The business tycoon shelled out $50 000 after Mazembe held local rivals AS Vita to a draw in a league game a week to their Champions League semi-final clash against the Algerians.
In the absence of Mputu, striker Alain Kaluyituka Dioko has taken up the mantle to inspire the rest of the team to another conquest.
The stocky Dioko was the competition’s top scorer with eight goals last year and this term he has fired home three goals so far.
JSK, who finished top of Group B ahead of Al Ahly of Egypt by dropping only four points, prepared for their trip to the DRC by beating AS Khourba 3-2 at home on the opening day of the new Algerian league season.
Midfielder Nabil Yalaoui scored one of his team’s goals from the penalty spot to continue from where he left after getting the equaliser against Heartland in their last group game in Nigeria.