• Congo DR lie 28th in the World Ranking, an all-time high
  • Les Leopards have been on the up for the last seven years
  • Sights now set on a first World Cup appearance since Germany 1974

If their recent form is anything to go by, Congo DR can start dreaming in Russian. The first country from sub-Saharan Africa to appear at a FIFA World Cup™, at Germany 1974 (when it was known as Zaire), the Leopards have grown tired of waiting for a return to the big stage.

After more than 40 years in the wilderness, Congo DR have crept their way back into the limelight, though they will not be able to catch their opponents by surprise for much longer. Their renaissance is reflected in their steady climb up the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking between 2010 and 2016, during which time they moved up from 139th place to 49th.

Les Leopards have continued their rise since then and reached an all-time Ranking high of 28th in July 2017, thanks in no small part to their run to the quarter-finals of this year’s CAF Africa Cup of Nations. In the meantime, they have also made a storming start to Group A in the third and final round of qualifying for Russia 2018, beating Libya 4-0 at home and then Guinea 2-1 away.

Long an obsession, a return to the world finals now looks increasingly realistic. A pair of good performances in the September double-header against Tunisia would make a trip to Russia next year go from possible to probable.

Reasons to believe
Sticking together
There is usually more than one ingredient in any recipe for success, not least team spirit, something Congo DR are not short of on or off the pitch, as Junior Kabananga, one of their most prized assets, told FIFA.com: “The secret of our success is the fact that we stick together and that we’ve got an ambitious coach. We’re also grounded and committed on the pitch.”

Structure and infrastructure
A former African superpower, the Leopards lost their sheen after their world finals appearance in 1974. Explaining the structural changes that have revived their fortunes, coach Florent Ibenge said: “There’s been a definite improvement in some key areas, like travel and equipment. We don’t lie to the players. They know that not everything’s perfect, that things aren’t as well organised as they are with their clubs, in Europe. But we can bring them something different.” 

Brimming with talent and confidence, Congo DR boast no shortage of experience in the shape of Dieumerci Mbokani, Yannick Bolasie, Chancel Mbemba and Neeskens Kebano, and a burning desire to force their way back into the global elite, qualities that have allowed them to put their words into action. Voicing that desire, Leopards defender Gabriel Zakuani said: “We feel honoured that the nation has already taken part in one World Cup, but more than anything we’re dreaming of making it to another one. The time has come to write a new page in our history. That time is now.”

The Leopards’ upcoming matches:

  • Congo-Congo DR, 11 August, friendly
  • Congo DR-Congo, 18 August, friendly
  • Tunisia-Congo DR, 1 September, Russia 2018 qualifying match
  • Congo DR-Tunisia, 5 September, Russia 2018 qualifying match
  • Libya-Congo DR, 2 October, Russia 2018 qualifying match
  • Congo DR-Guinea, 6 November, Russia 2018 qualifying match