By Matt Carter
Prospering in do-or-die situations – such as the group B qualification equation – requires big characters, and arguably there are none bigger than DR Congo’s Robert Kidiaba. The oldest player at the tournament, there is little question that the goalkeepers harbours an alarming potential for calamity but alongside that is undeniably a figure capable of real inspiration.
This tournament has arguably epitomised Kidiaba’s career in a nutshell. An error versus Zambia highlighted his cataclysmic side. Nevertheless, redemption was earned just days later when a superb double-save in the dying embers against Cape Verde ensured the Leopards lived to fight another day.
Tonight, thankfully for DR Congo, we again saw the rousing aspect of Kidiaba’s schizophrenic personality. Twice the 38-year-old critically bailed his side out, the second of those saves being a crucial point blank stop to deny Hamza Younes with less 15 minutes remaining – had that opportunity been converted it is difficult to envisage that a largely toothless DR Congo would have unearthed a route back in.
In a group that has been decided on the most minuscule of margins, the value of Kidiaba’s saves against both Cape Verde and Tunisia are simply immeasurable. However it isn’t just Kidiaba’s shot stopping heroics that have made him such a fundamental figure to the progression of Florent Ibengé’s side.
His character is infectious and in scenarios of genuine intensity such as those witnessed tonight that is an invaluable attribute. Conventional leader he might not be, but in the absence of regular skipper Youssouf Mulumbu, the TP Mazembe man has cut the most charismatic of figureheads.
If all that doesn’t convince you of Kidiaba’s player of the day credentials, then his now infamous bum-wiggling goal celebration most certainly should.