CAN 2024: the DRC hopes to become a major player in Africa again

The objective has already been achieved, but the Leopards are not satisfied

CAN 2024: the DRC hopes to become a major player in Africa again

The objective has already been achieved, but the Leopards are not satisfied. After eliminating Egypt, following a stifling penalty shootout (1-1, 8-7 on the tabs), the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) will play the quarter-finals on Friday February 2 in Abidjan of the African Cup of Nations (CAN) against Guinea. Qualification would lead the Leopards to face the winner of the Ivory Coast-Mali match in the semi-final on February 7 in Abidjan.

If the presence in the quarter-finals of a selection which had already won the CAN in 1968 and 1974 is not a sporting anomaly, its performance in Ivory Coast is a nice surprise and demonstrates progress since June 2022. At that time, the Leopards, then coached by Argentinian Hector Cuper, had just suffered two defeats in CAN qualifying against Sudan (1-2) and Gabon (0-1). Two months later, Frenchman Sébastien Desabre was named coach, with one objective: “That of playing in CAN 2025. Going to Ivory Coast was a bonus. »

Their perfect finish (four victories) gave them the right to do so. The Congolese, led by captain Chancel Mbemba and striker Cédric Bakambu, the two most capped players, with 80 and 52 caps respectively, managed to qualify for the final phase. If Sébastien Desabre refuses to use the term exploit to summarize the performance of his selection in Ivory Coast, he recognizes that the Leopards are ahead of their objectives. “We don’t come from nowhere, the DRC is a great football country,” he says. Things had been put in place before my arrival, but when I was appointed, I wanted to improve the functioning of the selection and bring new things to the squad. »

The coach had thus obtained assurance from the Ministry of Sports that the Leopards will have the financial means necessary to carry out training courses abroad and play friendly matches during international breaks, excluding qualifying matches for the CAN or the World Cup. 2026. “We were thus able to travel to Spain, Portugal and Morocco. I needed these training courses and these meetings to bring in new players and integrate them into our project,” continues Sébastien Desabre.

New technical staff

Dimitry Bertaud, Brian Bayeye and Simon Banza, born in France, Charles Pickel, native of Solothurn (Switzerland) and Grady Diangana, who had earlier worn the jersey of the English under-20 selections, were added to the squad. and 21 years old. On the other hand, executives were ousted like captain Marcel Tisserand and striker Ben Malongo by a French technician who took stock of the challenges posed by the realities of Congolese football five months after his appointment.

The national championship, interrupted in December 2022, for logistical and financial reasons, did not resume until September. Therefore for Sébastien Desabre, “it was not possible to select players who did not have a competition to compete in. I could therefore only rely on expatriates or dual nationals. »

The appointment of a new technical staff and the gradual integration of new players have allowed the Leopards to return to the forefront of the African scene, after years of disappointing results. “During the 2019 CAN in Egypt, the team was eliminated in the round of 16 and was absent in Cameroon in 2022,” recalls former Congolese defender Hérita Ilunga (31 caps). These changes to the staff and squad were necessary, because the Leopards needed new impetus. »

Hérita Ilunga, now president of the Union of Congo Footballers (UFC), is confident about the Leopards' chances against Guinea. “The DRC has developed a pleasant and coherent game since the start of the CAN, and in particular against opponents of the caliber of Morocco and Egypt. But we should not consider that having reached the quarter-finals is enough,” insists the former international.

Before the CAN kicked off in Ivory Coast, Sébastien Desabre judged that reaching this stage of the competition would be synonymous with success. But “now that we are there, we must of course have the ambition to pass this milestone. The qualification obtained against Egypt brought extra confidence to the players who want to extend their stay in Ivory Coast,” continues the coach. At the time of a confrontation against Guinea which promises to be balanced, the Leopards will be able to count on the support of more and more supporters going to Abidjan.