DR Congo are the Orange African Nations Championship (CHAN) 2016 winners, thanks to an emphatic 3-0 victory over Mali in an entertaining final on Sunday in a fully packed Amahoro National stadium in Kigali.
A brace from impressive Elia Mechak and another goal from Jonathan Bolingi were enough to make DR Congo the most successful country in the biennial tournament having won the inaugural edition in 2009 in Ivory Coast.
Mechack netted the first goal in the 29th minute after picking up a long ball down the left, and then cutting inside before firing a thunderbolt into the far-post, past a hapless Djigui Diarra. His well curved shot sent the fans wild - a good number of those in the stands arrived in Rwanda yesterday morning, through the Rubavu-Goma border.
Mali on several occasions tried to get an equalizer but Congolese keeper Ley Matampi was at his best, making save after save to deny the Malians.
And then, in the 62nd minute, Mechack struck again after eliminating several defenders. From then, it looked game over for the West Africans.
The icing on the cake for the Congolese came in the 73rd minute through a fantastic finish by Jonathan Bolingi.
Twenty minutes later, South African referee Daniel Frazer Bennet blew the final whistle and scenes of jubilations from DR Congo supporters ensued.
President Paul Kagame handed the trophy to DR Congo skipper Joel Kimwaki, in the presence of the President of Confederation of African Football (CAF) and acting FIFA President, Issa Hayatou, and other top CAF officials.
The win for Les Elephants, who eliminated hosts Rwanda 2-1 in the quarterfinals, was followed by car horns around town and night-long celebrations.
Forward Mechack was deservedly named Man of the Match and Man of the Tournament having scored four goals in the nearly three week- tournament, with a brace in the final. He also finished joint top scorer, alongside Nigeria's Chisom Chikatara, of the 2016 Orange African Nations Championship.
DR Congo captain Joel Kimwaki, who became the first player to lift the CHAN trophy twice, won the CAF Fair Play Award.
DR Congo coach Jean Florent Ibenge, in a post-match news conference, said his side had come into the final with the right approach. "I have always wanted to perform well in my job and to give the best I can, we tried to study the game and tried to be organised in defence and made sure we kept Sekou Koita, their best player, at bay."
"I am proud of my young players who gave everything in this tournament" he added.
On the other hand, Djibril Drame, the Mali coach, admitted that the best team had won the tournament. "We played against the best team, an athletic team and a strong team. I knew it was always going to be tough against DR Congo, they deserve the trophy."
He added: "We made individual arrears which cost us the match, it was our first CHAN tournament and the first time to play on a natural turf during the tournament, but that's no excuse for us to have lost the game."
Meanwhile, Ivory Coast finished second runner-up after beating Guinea 2-1 earlier on Sunday at Amahoro National Stadium.
The Elephants got the opener in the 24th minute through an own goal by Mohamed Youla. Two minutes later, Guinea were awarded a penalty after Lassana Abdoulaye Samake was brought down inside the area but goalkeeper Abdoul Karim Cisse denied Sankhon from the spot-kick.
Four minutes later, Gragnon Anicet Badie doubled Michel Dussey's side's lead with a powerful strike from the edge of the box.
Guinea won another penalty in the 64th minute, but, again, Cisse saved from Alseny Camara, before Aboubacar Leo Camara scored a consolation for Guinea late on.
Champions DR Congo took home $750,000 in prize money, while Mali and Ivory Coast received $400,000 and $250,000, for finishing second and third, respectively.
The next Orange African Nations Championship takes place in Kenya in 2018, with Rwanda having been the only East African Country thus far top have hosted a major African football tournament.
DR Congo 3-0 Mali
Guinea 1-2 Côte d'Ivoire