Nations In Focus Series: DR Congo, the unsung hero of African football
Whether you are African or not, you probably have come across the fact the continent is richly endowed with vast natural resources. It’s almost the singular biggest reservoir for the world’s oil and minerals. What’s also true is that the Democratic Republic of Congo in particular is a major powerhouse if not “the powerhouse” of everything. Put aside the cobalt mines providing the mineral for global smartphone manufacturers such as Apple, the Central African country is also a rich pool for footballing talent. They are a nation still figuring out their democratic identity but way ahead in its football one. Now, why is this so?
DR Congo, the personification of consistency in the game
It is an undeniable fact that West African nations such as Ghana, Nigeria and Ivory Coast together with North Africans ones in Egypt, Morocco, Algeria and the likes of Tunisia are hugely celebrated for their successes in the football and quite rightly so if you ask me. In fact, the Pharaohs of Egypt is the most successful men’s football team in Africa with a record seven AFCON titles while Nigeria’s Super Falcons have won the most titles in the Women’s African Cup of Nations history with ten. The Leopards of DR Congo might have won the tournament just twice, but have really been the most consistent and stable performer on that stage in recent times. They have hardly missed an AFCON tournament since 1994 while the above big guns have gone AWOL on a number of occasions. You might hardly see them on trophy podiums or the biggest of tournaments like the FIFA World Cup, but it will definitely won’t be a lack of talent issue. Their current 40th place ranking on the Coca-Cola FIFA rankings, and third in Africa behind Tunisia and Senegal just further tells the story of how good they are. They were even the highest scorers of the 2018 World Cup qualifier games for Africa, with Egypt slightly pipping them to a spot in Russia. Despite DR Congo’s political and social challenges as a country, football has not stopped progressing and filling out some socio-economic gaps. For instance, at club level, DR Congo’s domestic clubs have won the second highest number of continental titles, that is the CAF Champions League and the CAF Confederations Cup. They have a combined eight titles, six shy of the leaders Egypt. TP Mazembe, a club from Lubumbashi is one of the most feared clubs on the continent and a dream destination for many even though it still has to compete with carefully funded clubs such as those in the South African Absa Premiership. It’s not only at home, the Congolese footballers shine abroad as well.
A good number of global talents today are from DR Congo
Forget the likes of the Lingala speaking Romelu Menama Bolingoli Lukaku, the Belgian record-scorer born to Congolese parents in the European country and made his mark on the world from there. In fact, there is an interesting relationship with the Belgians and DR Congo with Monaco’s 21-year-old considered to be one of the world’s bright talents, Youri Tielemans, Watford’s Christian Kabasele and Crystal Palace’s Christian Benteke all having some Congolese roots. The second-most expensive African footballer in history, Cedric Bakambu who switched Villareal for a Chinese Super League club after rocking the Spanish La Liga with a bag full of goals is Congolese. Some other notable talents in the game today who are Congolese include West Ham United’s left winger/wingback in Arthur Masuaku, a born dribbler, super comfortable on the ball and my personal favorite, Yannick Bolasie. Before Zaha, Bolasie was kind of Crystal Palace’s Zaha or maybe we should we say Zaha is now Palace’s Bolasie? The 29-year-old who is currently an Everton player on loan at Aston Villa is such a joy to watch. He can dribble blind-eyed or sweep the pitch with his arm as he dribbles. Great great talent. Time will not allow me to mention the likes of Stoke City forward, Benik Afobe and many more.
The 2019 AFCON Qualifiers are currently ongoing with the Leopards being one of the favorites to qualify and to be once again dark horses with the capability to win the tournament in June next year. They are currently second behind Zimbabwe with both teams tied on four points in group G, a group also occupied by Liberia and the other Congo, Congo Brazzaville.
They might be an “introverted” nation but really a host to many things we love and need in the world. Football talent is no exception.
Do you have a favorite DR Congo footballer?