Congo left-winger Mavis Tchibota will likely never forget the moment when he received a deserved standing ovation from the fans at Estadio Morelos, after being substituted in the 76th minute of his country's opening FIFA U-17 World Cup match against the Netherlands. The Congolese secured an impressive 1-0 victory over the Dutch, which was icing on the cake for the explosive Tchibota.
In fact, the No20 midfielder was a constant thorn in the side of the current European champions, who appeared incapable of dealing with his incessant forays down the left side with flamboyant skills and startling pace. When the newly turned 15-year-old's age is taken into account, his performance on Saturday must be regarded all the more impressive.
“Where do I get my technique from? My dad was capped by Congo and, from what they tell me, he was a pretty good player. It’s got to be a genetic thing!” laughed the precocious youngster during a quick conversation with FIFA.com in the run-up to his nation’s potentially decisive second group match against Mexico on Tuesday.
Like his son’s U-17 side, Tchibota senior was part of a Congo team that had also spent a long period in the international wilderness, qualifying for the final stages of the CAF African Cup of Nations in 1992 - the first time they had achieved such a feat in 14 years. He scored two goals at the tournament in Senegal, including one in their quarter-final exit at the hands of Ghana.
“He was the reason I began playing football, because we would kick the ball about when I was little, and he’s really helped me to get to where I am today. His advice was always that I should try to do better than he did,” recalled the attack-minder Etoile du Congo player, one of just two members of the squad that are not attached to the national football academy back home.
They’re a great side, with skilful players who use the ball well. We respect them, but we don’t fear them.
No fear of Mexico
While Congo’s victory over the Netherlands certainly raised eyebrows in the wider world of football, the same could not necessarily be said for the players themselves, according to their star performer.
“I thought that in general we played well, and that the win stemmed from a very solid team display, with everything coming together just as we’d hoped,” he explained proudly. “Lots of people were surprised, but we weren’t. We knew that we could beat the Dutch, even though they’re the reigning European champions,” added Tchibota, whose idols include Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema.
This tremendous team effort was noted by the Mexican fans, who encouraged the Africans in raucous fashion from start to finish. “It was a lot of fun – at times we felt like we were back in Congo!” he joked, aware that Tuesday’s match promises to markedly reduce the level of local support.
“This might seem an obvious thing to say, but we’re playing Mexico’s national team, not their fans. They’re a great side, with skilful players who use the ball well. We respect them, but we don’t fear them,” said the player who dreams of one day taking his talents to Ligue 1 in France.
The possibility that Congo could become overburdened with their new-found status of potential tournament winners does not appear to worry Tchibota. “We came here with the aim of reaching the final and lifting the trophy, but for now we’ve only won one game. But let me be clear: we’re more than capable of dealing with the pressure,” he concluded.