In the aftermath of Cameroon’s obliteration of his Ivory Coast side, Herve Renard was particularly scathing of his team, diagnosing in no uncertain terms that it had shown individuality rather than collectivity.
Changes ensued for the DR Congo game, with the major reshuffling occurring in the defensive system that was reduced to rubble against Cameroon.
Serge Aurier was the sole survivor, and while the pint-sized Arthur Boka has had to bow out of this international break due to visa issues, Montpellier’s Siaka Tiene is perhaps more defensively rounded for Renard’s liking and would have probably won the nod over the Malaga man regardless of the situation.
The most notable renovations came in the engine of the defence. The roly-poly, footballing comedian Sol Bamba was finally discarded after another error-strewn performance, with the 17-year-old manchild Franck Kessie reinstated next to Ousmane Viera to form a brand new centre-back partnership.
While they faced a DR Congo side erratic in attack, and the sequence of play to Cedric Mongongu’s equaliser from the spot oozed Bambaism school of defending, the Ivorians looked defensively respectable for the first time in a while.
DR Congo will be pleased with their fight back on Saturday. For the opening 40 minutes, they had looked overawed and massively inferior. It was unsurprising to see a technically superior side such as the Ivory Coast pass the ball around with ease, of course, but various DR Congo passes went astray, sporadic attacking opportunities were wasted through erratic lines of reasoning, and the ball was nervously miscontrolled when in good, inviting areas.
When they did settle, with sterling work in midfield by Yossouf Mulumbu and Distel Zola, and the break-necking velocity of Ndombe Mubele in attack, they managed to dominate the majority of the rest of the game.
Despite equalising and being backed by a frenzied, energising crowd, that work was to be undone. Between the sticks, the backside-bouncing, animated TP Mazembe goalkeeper Robert Kidiaba, a man who has made a habit of committing costly errors in recent weeks. Just over a week ago, two similar misjudgements of the flight of the ball saw his club side bow out of the African Champions League semi-finals on away goals.
On Saturday, he made a spectacular save to deny Wifrled Bony from the spot, much to the frenzy of the fans. Then, he countered that when, with six minutes to go, he parried Yaya Toure’s free kick straight onto the path of Max Gradel, who scored the winner.
DR Congo have good enough players to cause the Ivorians some problems, but when you have a goalkeeper you can’t depend on, or certainly one that is running low on confidence, going to places like Abidjan and winning becomes a very tall order.