23 January 2013

Congo-Kinshasa/Niger: Leopards Take On Team Looking for Away Win

Photo: Barry Aldworth/BackpagePix
Tresor Mputu of the Democratic Republic of Congo, right, during the team's opening match against Ghana.

Niger will continue their search for a first win outside of the country in 21 years when they take on DR Congo in their second Group B encounter at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.

It is an astonishingly long wait for an away victory, with their last success on the road coming in a 1-0 World Cup qualifier victory over Botswana in Gaborone in 1992.

Given that eye-popping statistic, it is in some ways astonishing that they have qualified for the last two Nations Cup finals, but it speaks powerfully for their strength at home in Niamey.

Coach Gernot Rohr will be desperate to unlock the secret code to an away success, and to be fair to the side, they had their moments in the 1-0 loss to Mali in their tournament opener.

The Maliens were gifted their goal late on by a blunder from Niger goalkeeper Kassaly Douada, and had chances to take the lead themselves beforehand.

Rohr was fuming with the result, and the match officials, feeling that Douada was fouled in the build-up to the goal. But he has put a brave face on turning things around against DR Congo.

"It's a pity the goal came because of a mistake by the referee, who didn't see a big foul on my goalkeeper," Rohr said. "[But] we will do our best to win the second match. The team has a fighting spirit and that is good."

DR Congo had massive problems in the lead-up to the tournament with coach Claude LeRoy allegedly resigning his post just days before the event over unpaid monies.

This was later denied, but he did come out with a blistering attack on the Congolese association for the way in which they had handled the build-up to the tournament.

The players went on strike last Thursday and Friday in solidarity with the coach and many might have expected them to fold when they met Ghana in their opener.

But having gone 2-0 down they stormed back in the second half and showed great reliance and character, levelling at 2-2 and looking as though they may go on and find a winner.

"After all the problems, this was a fantastic experience for the country and I hope this result will now get the whole nation behind us," LeRoy said of their Black Stars draw..

"You have to go back to 1974 for the only time this country qualified for the World Cup. We now have to take it step by step in our comeback to a high-level competition like the Africa Cup of Nations. They have huge talent and quality... I am proud of my players."

But a loss to Niger, although it would not put DR Congo out of the competition altogether, would make their chances of qualifying extremely slim.

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