9 January 2013

Africa: 'White Wizard' Hopes DR Congo Can Produce Magic

Photo: Buanews
South African soccer fans.

Democratic Republic of Congo are widely regarded as the most dangerous of the lowest seeds going into the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations. The reasons include a proud record in the competition that includes two titles, several outstanding footballers, and a coach set to make a record seventh appearance at the competition.

Most pundits are backing Ghana to win Port Elizabeth-based Group B with 2012 bronze medallists Mali and DR Congo contesting the other ticket to the knock-out stage and Niger the whipping boys. DR Congo are back at the Cup of Nations after a seven-year break with French coach Claude le Roy also in charge when they reached the 2006 quarter-finals before bowing out to hosts Egypt. Nomadic Le Roy, a bespectacled 64-year-old with flowing blond locks known as the 'White Wizard', took Ghana to third place two years later and also spent time in Oman before receiving a telephone call from Kinshasa.

Congolese President Joseph Kabila was on the line and he persuaded the coach to come back to central Africa and take over the struggling Leopards, who have failed to qualify for the past three Cup of Nations. "The team was in very bad shape," recalled Le Roy in a Congolese radio interview. "They were ranked 35 in Africa and many stars were no longer interested in playing for the national team.

"An unstable political situation meant football had taken a back seat for a few years, so the priority was to restore confidence to the team and help it operate more professionally. "DR Congo has too much potential to accept not being among the best teams on the continent," said the coach who guided Cameroon to victory over Nigeria in the 1988 Africa Cup decider.

They had little difficulty reaching the 2013 Cup of Nations, outplaying the Seychelles (7-0) and Equatorial Guinea (5-2) after two-leg ties in a shortened elimination process. Dieumerci Mbokani from Belgian champions Anderlecht contributed three of the 12 goals and is among the Leopards Le Roy believes could take the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth by storm. "With the likes of Mbokani, Tresor LuaLua Lomana and Cedric Makiadi we can field a great team and we also have an incredible attacking talent in Tresor Mputu," boasts Le Roy.

"It will be a difficult pool for us as we are less favoured than Ghana and Mali, who were 2012 semi-finalists. But I like being outsiders and qualifying for the quarter-finals would be a beautiful dream." DR Congo, whose titles came in 1968 and 1974, have faced Ghana six times in the Cup of Nations, winning two and losing four, and Mali twice, winning and losing once.

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