Joel Kiassumbua plays in goal for Congo DR
A FIFA U-17 World Cup winner in 2009 with Switzerland
Now dreaming of helping the Leopards reach Qatar 2022
When they appeared in the FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers for the first time back in 1974, Congo DR – then known as Zaire – made it all the way to the finals in Germany.
Though they went on to lose all three of their group games in a luckless campaign, the Simbas – as the Leopards were called at the time – had at least made a little bit of history. That brief appearance was their last in the world finals to date however, a record that Congo DR’s new generation are keen to set straight.
“When you look at how much Congolese football has come on, I don’t think it would be a surprise to see the Leopards qualify for the 2022 World Cup,” Congo DR goalkeeper Joel Kiassumbua told FIFA.com. “I haven’t forgotten that we only just missed out on the last World Cup. We were just ten minutes away from Russia.
“We’ve got the quality,” he added. “A lot of our players have experience of European football and the country is also very well represented in African club competitions by the likes of TP Mazembe and AS Vita. We are a big footballing nation and the World Cup should be more of an objective for us than a dream.”
That “we” has a special meaning for Joel Kiassumbua. Born in the Swiss city of Lucerne to a Congolese father and a Swiss mother, he began his international career with Die Nati’s youth teams. It proved to be a successful venture too, with the keeper forming part of the Switzerland squad that won the FIFA U-17 World Cup Nigeria 2009 against all expectations, an achievement that in part explains his optimism when discussing Congo DR’s prospects.
“Obviously, I only have good memories of it all,” said Kiassumbua, who was understudy to FIFA Golden Glove winner Benjamin Siegrist in Nigeria. “What made it even more special for me was that it was my first ever trip to my father’s home continent. Being the second-choice keeper didn’t detract from how happy I felt. The coach had told us before the tournament and we each knew what to expect. I was very proud just to be part of the team.”
That happiness quickly gave way to doubt, however. With a World Cup winner’s medal in his pocket, Kiassumbua expected to get to the top and to get there fast: “I thought that winning that world title would change everything, but I didn’t realise that I still had an awful lot of work ahead of me. I was still only a youth player.”
As it turned out, Kiassumbua had to wait three years before a professional club would put their faith in him and five for Swiss second division side FC Wohlen to offer him a starting place.
A Leopard against Gabon’s Panthers
Having finally got his career up and running, he played his first games in the Swiss Super League with FC Lugano in 2017/18. The following season he joined Servette FC and helped them earn promotion to the Swiss top flight. The club finished fourth in the Super League last season, and though Kiassumbua is still with them, he is no longer their first-choice keeper.
“My career is like that of any other footballer – it has its ups and downs,” he said. “Everyone takes their own path and I’m proud of mine. I’m living my dream: I’m a professional footballer, an international, and I don’t envy anyone.”
The Leopards are appreciative of Kiassumbua’s calmness between the posts. After winning his first cap in a friendly against Iraq in November 2015, he played his first competitive game for his country in a 2022 CAF Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Gabon last November. “I enjoyed it and it helped me mature too,” he explained. “It’s no easy job to play in front of 80,000 people and for a country of 80 million inhabitants. There’s a lot of responsibility, especially in my position.”
Kiassumbua impressed too, keeping a clean sheet in a goalless draw and winning the man of the match award. Five days later he was back between the posts for the 2-2 draw with Gambia. “I think I’ve shown what I can do,” he said. “But I’m aware that I’m not the only candidate for the job. You have to be competitive and in form, and as always it’s the coach who has the last word.”
The Leopards’ goalkeeping coach is none other than Robert Kidiaba, the country’s former No1. “It’s a privilege to get advice from him,” said Kiassumbua. “He’s a legend, and not just because of his famous celebration. He was a fantastic keeper.”
If Kiassumbua can fulfil his latest World Cup dream, he may one day stand alongside Kidiaba in Congo DR’s pantheon of goalkeeping greats.