In Congo DR's first match at Russia 2006 against the USA, Odile Kuyangisa was one of the most explosive players on show. This attacking midfielder is her team's metronome, keeping them ticking over and defining the rhythm of the Congolese play.
Of diminutive build (1.51m and 54 kilos), Kuyangisa is a little dynamo who plays very much by instinct and, although still just 17, she has already appeared for various clubs in Congo and now in Equatorial Guinea.
Seemingly timid, she looks down as she speaks and her words are spoken so quietly as to sometimes seem almost inaudible. Their content, however, belies such body language. "The match against the United States has given us hope for the upcoming games," she told FIFA.com. "Many people thought we were going to take a hammering."
Kuyangisa, like the whole team, is relieved at not having been outclassed by the Americans, although she is far from happy about the fact that they emerged with only pride. "We didn't have enough self-belief. The game was like a mountain to climb for us, as we were to a certain extent already beaten before we went on the field," she admits candidly.
Against France, the midfielder believes they will need to step up and, above all, believe. "We saw the French play against Argentina and they know how to move the ball around. But our coach will come up with a plan and we'll try to apply it to the letter. This time, we'll be truly focused. If we play intelligently, I'm sure we're capable of beating the French."
Plan or no plan, nothing will prevent Kuyangisa from playing instinctively. Against the United States , she attempted the most audacious effort of the tournament so far: a 50-metre lob that was reminiscent of Pele's legendary effort at the 1970 FIFA World Cup™ in Mexico. At seeing it sail narrowly over, her customarily stern face was lit up by a massive smile.
"There are many players I admire, like Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry and Didier Drogba," the youngster said. "But the one who really inspires me is Ronaldinho, because when he plays, he really does play with the ball. Some people say my style's a bit similar," she added, her cheeks reddening.
Quest for recognition
Kuyangisa dreams of a move to Europe or, understandably, the United States. "If a club comes looking for me," she says modestly. That seems nothing short of guaranteed because this is a girl with uncommon talent. Blessed with fantastic pace and a range of technical gifts, she also displays excellent vision in her passing. It is only in terms of physique that she falls slightly short.
Back in her homeland, her friends and family are understandably proud of the rising young star. "The little girl of the family playing for the national team is quite something," she said, smiling.
The Congolese need to beat the French to have a realistic chance of reaching the next round, and how they manage that matters not. "We'll need to be really competitive and physically strong," Kuyangisa stressed. "It's vital to get the ball down and play."
But the team's star wants more. Indeed, she is on a quest for recognition, frustrated by the level of interest in women's football in her country, and there is real zeal in her voice when she talks on this subject.
Before long, however, she is back to the tournament, declaring that "the atmosphere among the squad is excellent and we're all really close." Having heard the team singing in the changing room and on the pitch a few minutes before their first match kicked off, that is easy to believe. Courtesy of this togetherness, they share an unambiguous common dream.
"We've come here to play. If we play to our capabilities, we'll be in the quarter-finals, then the semis. At that stage, anything's possible," Kuyangisa concluded, visibly embarrassed by her own arrogance. We will soon discover if such self-confidence is well-founded.