The Democratic Republic of Congo has the distinction of being
the first sub-Saharan African country to participate at the finals
of a FIFA World Cup
That was in 1974, when they qualified for the finals hosted in Germany under the name Zaire. Although that campaign ended rather unsatisfactorily with three defeats and 14 goals conceded (including nine against Yugoslavia) - a record that puts them second only to El Salvador at the wrong end of the overall FIFA World Cup stats table - the Leopards will remain in the record books as the first African country not from the north of the continent to have paraded their skills at the showpiece of international football.
Earlier in the same year, Zaire had experienced somewhat more success at the CAF Africa Cup of Nations, beating Zambia in the final. Most of the players, including goalkeeper Muamba Kazadi and strikers Mulamba Ndaye and Etepe Kakoko, who starred against the Zambians went on to play in Germany.
Since then, Zaire's (and now Congo DR's) football fortunes have dwindled, and they have not come close to repeating their 1974 success of winning the African championship or qualifying for the FIFA World Cup finals.
Germany 2006 was the closest Congo DR came to returning to the forefront of world football. After Alain Giresse rejected the overtures of the Congolese federation, it was another Frenchman, Claude Le Roy, who finally accepted the post. Highly knowledgeable about African football, the former Cameroon and Senegal coach wasted no time in restoring the team's acumen.
Congo DR were in the running for a qualifying spot until the end of the campaign but finished on four wins, two draws and four defeats, putting them five points adrift of Ghana but ahead of South Africa.
Now one of Africa's biggest countries have set their sights on the 2010 FIFA World Cup finals in nearby South Africa and have turned to another Frenchman, Patrice Neveu to help them qualify.