Bona-fide Dark Horses
Unlike a lot of team that are frivolously dubbed as pre-tournament ‘dark horses’, the DR Congo come into the tournament with tangible success that shows their inner cohesion as a team. In 2009, they won the inaugural Africa Nations Championship (which differs from the Cup of Nations in that it only involves domestic-based players), four of the starting XI will probably start for DR Congo in the upcoming tournament.
The eccentric Muteba Kidiaba is the custodian in goal. A fantastic shot-stopper, the TP Mazembe goalkeeper isn’t commanding at set-pieces and it’ll be left to centre-back Cedric Mongongu to monitor the airwaves. The second centre-back slot is up for grabs after Joel Kimwaki, the usual centre-back, was not included for disciplinary reasons, it’ll be one of Larrys Mabiala, Landry Mulemo or Peterbrough’s Gabriel Zakuani, who has been providing a riveting pre-Afcon insight on Twitter. With little time for the centre-back pairing to form an understanding, this could be DR Congo’s downfall.
The full-backs are both adventurous; there’s Jean Kasusula, stationed on the left, and Mpeko Issama on the right. Mulumbu partners Makiadi in midfield, with the former far more adventurous than he is for West Brom, and they both diligently shuttle to the wings when the full-backs maraud forward.
Mputu is the playmaker/trequartista, occasionally dropping deep and veering down the left, showing extraordinary economy with either foot to feed in through balls to the three players ahead of him. DR Congo could be especially noxious down the left where Kasusula, Mputu and the impish left winger Deo Kanda used their club relationship to choreograph moves to devastating effect. Dioko Kaluyituka, the man who scored the winning goal in TP Mazembe’s 2-0 shock win over Internacional in the Club World Cup in 2010, is very direct on the right wing and offers more lethal finishing. The diminutive Zola Matumona, who offers more trickery, could be preferred to Kaluyituka or used as an impact sub.
The wily runs and phlegmatic finishing of Mbokani in front of them only adds further substance to the team. “It is the end of a long battle, I didn’t need any other player apart from Mbokani – he is the last player I have been waiting for,” said Le Roy when the Anderlecht striker ended his 14-month exile last July. He knew the team was complete.
Can they go all the way?
They have a tough opening game against Ghana, but with the Black Stars struggling to find mainstays in their full-back positions and the DR Congo blessed with the variety down the flanks to test them to the brim, a shock result is not inconceivable. Mali, who finished third in the last Cup of Nations, are another tough prospect but the differences between the teams is gossamer-thin. Can they live up to the hype? We shall see, but the DR Congo are certainly deserving of their ‘dark horses’ tag.
Coach: Claude Le Roy
A popular pundit on French television channel Canal+ in the late 1990s, it was initially his exploits for Cameroon in the mid-late eighties that won him wide plaudits. In 1986, he took the Indomitable Lions to the final, but they lost to hosts Egypt on penalties. Two years later, Cameroon were crowned African champions after defeating Nigeria.
Key man: Tresor Mputu
If life is like a box of chocolates, then Tresor Mputu is a Kitkat. Each eruption of enchantment tastes as good as the last one and after Havin’ had A Break to catch your breath, you’re instantly ready for another. With Mulumbu and Makiadi diligently carrying the water for him, the captain and talisman will inevitably walk on it.
One to watch: Deo Kanda
The winger has the cheeky-chappiness to dupe defenders with all manners of deception even in tight spaces. A hardcore performer and a rousing crowd warmer, he does lack the bigger-picture awareness, sometimes to the detriment of his team, but every now and then he is capable of conjuring a jaw-dropper, like this one against Equatorial Guinea in the play-off tie: