Few gave Claude Le Roy’s side a chance prior to this tournament. On paper, they were underwhelming, and their run-off-the-mill roster was mirrored on the pitch with a style of play that didn’t enchant nor infuriate, instead leaving most viewers just shrugging their shoulders in apathy.
That Congo qualified as Group A winners, and with the highest points tally by any of the quarter-finalists, still leaves many scratching their heads. But that was always the danger in the weaker upper half of the draw. When scratching the surface, Congo surpassed expectations given the personnel at Le Roy’s disposal.
Opportunism was their tournament theme. They rallied late on in the tournament curtain-raiser against hosts Equatorial Guinea to escape with a point, and smuggled full points against the much-fancied duo of Gabon and Burkina Faso thanks to ruthlessly punishing their opponent’s mistakes.
Plaudits for their over achievement should mainly go to star striker Thievy Bifouma, whose all-round ability as a centre forward adding genuine potency, in movement and output, to a side which lacked match deciders.
The defending in the last half hour against DR Congo, where they went from 2-0 up – and seeing the flashing lights of the semi-finals – to succumbing to a dignity-sapping 4-2 defeat. It was uncharacteristic behaviour by a side led by one of the continent’s most astute tacticians and which had hitherto defended well in the tournament.
That aforementioned collapse against historical rivals DR Congo was genuinely ugly. It marred what had been a good campaign and confirmed the nagging suspicion that the Diables Rouges had blagged their way through to the quarter finals mainly due to the under-performance of other teams rather than, Bifouma aside, any sort of top-tier quality or form in their ranks.
The defensive frailties that nearly cost them qualification came to the fore again. None of the other quarter-finalists would have collapsed in such spectacular fashion, and it will make this AFCON campaign one Congo want to forget rather than remember.