This coming Friday will see the opening ceremony of AFCoN 2015 at the Estadio De Bata, followed by the opening match, where hosts Equatorial Guinea will take on Congo. It was so nearly another tournament to be missed by the Congolese. One of only two teams at the AFCoN that were required to enter the preliminary qualification round, this is where they so nearly exited. Drawn to play a two-legged play-off with Namibia, after a disastrous 1-0 defeat in Windhoek, they proved far too strong in the return leg on home soil, easing to a 3-0 victory. From here they would need to play Rwanda, again home and away, to earn a place in the qualification group stage. Things seemed to be running smoothly though, after a tense first half in Pointe-Noire, Cesaire Gandze and Ferebory Dore both scored to give Congo a two goal cushion going into the second leg to be played 2 weeks later in Kigali. Here a similar pattern emerged, with a tense first half offering few chances, opened up after the break. But this time it would be Rwanda to strike twice and with no further goals to follow in the 90 minutes or extra-time, penalties it was. Rwanda were to be victorious on the day but having fielded an illegible player, Daddy Birori, were disqualified, sending Congo through to the Group stage of qualification, drawn against South Africa, Nigeria and Sudan.
Not much hope was given to the Congolese from here on in, South Africa and Nigeria were the favourites to proceed and rightly so, Bafana Bafana impressive 2 years ago as hosts of AFCoN 2013, narrowly exiting to Mali at Quarter-Final stage via penalty shoot-out and Nigeria, as reigning champions were tipped to top the group with very little trouble. But the Super-Eagles of Nigeria were to be one of the major casualties in qualification, an opening game home defeat to the Congolese proving to be a sign of things to come. That game finished 3-2 to Congo, Thievy Bifouma, on whose shoulders rest many hopes, scoring twice. Though Nigeria would be winners in the return fixture, Congo’s 2 victories over Sudan and a vital point earned away to South Africa was enough to see them through to their first AFCoN since 1974, a tournament they played in as reigning champions, having lifted the trophy two years previously in Cameroon.
As previously mentioned, Congo will kick things off for AFCoN 2015 against the hosts and will then face a much fancied Gabonese side before their final group stage match against Burkina Faso. Even with the legendary Claude Le Roy at the helm, I do not see Congo making the Quarter-Final stage. With a relatively unknown squad Congo boast a total of 9 players plying their trade in the Congolese domestic league,5 of whom for the Dolisie based Leopards club. Other players to look out for will be Delvin N’Dinga, currently on loan with Olympiacos from Monaco and defender Francis N’Ganga and Rennes youngster Prince Oniangue. With a fairly young squad and especially if Le Roy stays on past the tournament as manager, Congo may prove to be a team to watch in the future but for this year I feel the other three temas they have been grouped with possess stronger squads with a touch more quality at this level.