Aiming too high is now a thing of the past for Zola Matumona. Having burst onto the continental scene with Congo DR at their last trip to the CAF Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) in 2006, the overconfidence and disorganisation that subsequently dogged the team have certainly served to moderate his aims for January’s edition in South Africa.
“We’re not in any sort of position to be making demands,” said the playmaker in an interview with FIFA.com, and his pragmatism and humility faithfully represent the prevailing mood in Les Leopards’ camp, 15 months after Claude Le Roy’s return as coach.
“We mustn’t forget everything we went through after Claude left in 2006,” said Matumona, who has been plying his trade in Belgium since being snapped up weeks after sparkling in Congo DR’s run to the last eight at that year’s CAN in Egypt.
A full international since 2005, the diminutive Kinshasa-born creator can testify first-hand to all the difficult and turbulent periods the national squad has been through since that Egyptian adventure. Three coaches held the reins since Le Roy first departed with the last of these, Robert Nouzaret, leaving unexpectedly in 2011 just three days prior to a decisive CAN 2012 qualifier against Senegal.
Thus the call went out again to Papa Claude, who agreed to try and lead The Leopards to the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™. Also known affectionately as Le Sorcier Blanc (The White Wizard), Le Roy knows that the upcoming showdown in South Africa is sure to provide a tough test for his “soldiers”, who he feels must prove to their countrymen “they’re capable of all pulling together as one”.
Speaking last month to FIFA.com, the experienced supremo said to “look somewhere else if you’re trying to find favourites and surprise packages”, and Matumona is on the very same page. “Our goal is to show technical quality and tactical discipline,” said the left-footed attacking midfielder.
“We need to listen to what the coach has to say, as he’s already proven to our country that he knows what he’s talking about,” continued Matumona, of Mons. “Reaching this CAN is proof of the good work that’s been done for over a year now, so now we’ve got to show we know what we’re doing and stay fully focused in every match.
"The fans may have plenty to say, but we’ve got to concentrate on playing. If we all start thinking we’re stars, we won’t achieve anything. We’ve got to stick to that mantra. If Claude can’t help us do it, nobody can.”
Le Roy brings African know-how
Les Léopards clinched their passage to South Africa 2013 by overcoming Seychelles and Equatorial Guinea yet, as demonstrated by 20 January’s Group B opener against Ghana, the calibre of their opponents is set to take a sizeable hike. Also drawn in the same section as Mali and Niger, Congo DR can up the intensity of their competition preparations come 4 January, once their European-based players join up with the rest of the squad.
“We’re only a small footballing nation, so we shouldn’t put too much pressure on ourselves. The most important thing is to rediscover the mentality we showed in 2006,” said the former FC Brussels player. “I’ve learned a lot during these six years in Europe. I’ve changed the way I play, I dribble the ball much less and I’m more disciplined now. I didn’t use to do any defending, but I’ve changed my mindset.”
Scorer of an exceptional goal against Cameroon in CAN 2012 qualifying, Matumona agreed with the assessment made last month by his coach: the national squad is in a healthier state than when Le Roy took over.
“Under Claude, all the players are happy to be in the squad – he brings us all together,” enthused the 31-year-old. “He knows how to talk to players and we’ve all understood just to what degree this CAN is a top-level event, both collectively and as individuals. It’s a magnificent shop window; I’m the perfect example of that.”
What is more, as the conversation concluded, Matumona stated that the forthcoming CAN could give Congo DR the perfect springboard for their Brazil 2014 qualifying campaign: “I just know that, if we achieve something positive [in South Africa], we’ll go on to reach the World Cup.”