There are some football matches that will never be forgotten, memorable clashes that awaken feelings of joy or pain in the hearts of players and spectators alike whenever they come up in conversation. And one encounter that most definitely belongs in this category is Zaire's FIFA World Cup™ qualifier against Morocco on 9 December 1973.
On that fateful night in Kinshasa, the Ebony Leopards of Zaire became the first sub-Saharan African side to reach a world finals. Join FIFA.com for a look back.
The summary * 9 December 1973, Stade Tate Raphael, Kinshasa *
* *Zaire 3-0 Morocco * *Scorers: Zaire (Kembo 58, 61, Mbungu 79)
* *Zaire: Kazadi, Mwepu, Mukombo, Bwanga, Lobilo, Mambuene, Mayanga (Mulamba 46), Kibonge, Kembo (Mbungu 71), Kidumu, Kakoko.
*Morocco: *Belkourchi, Benkrif, Ilhardane, Megrouh, Zahraoui, Najah, Fetouni, Chebbak, Faras (Choukri 52), Haddadi, Amcharrat.
*The stakes * As only the second African side to qualify for a FIFA World Cup, having secured the continent's presence at Mexico 1970, Morocco started the last round of the African qualifiers for the 1974 tournament as heavy favourites. They moved effortlessly through the knockout stages to be paired with Zaire and Zambia in a final group competition for a place at the finals in West Germany. The myth of the Moroccans' prowess was shattered in their opening game, though, when they lost 4-0 to Zambia and then watched as the Leopards won both home and away against the Zambians in the next two matches to go top of the section. It meant that Morocco traveled to Kinshasa needing a win deny the Zairians qualification.
Zaire (currently Congo DR) had a strong reputation too, with their clubs prominent in continental competition. They had reached the semi-finals of the CAF Africa Cup of Nations in 1972, but drew 1-1 with Morocco during the tournament in Cameroon. Zaire's then-president Mobutu Sese Seko was a passionate backer of his side, providing the cash to employ Yugoslav coach Blagoge Vidinic and offering his players generous bonus payments in the form of cars and plots of lands. He even made his private jet available to ferry the team to away matches.
The Leopards had all the incentive to win but Morocco were in high spirits after resurrecting their hopes with a 2-0 win over Zambia in Tetouan two weeks earlier. They were on two points from two matches, Zaire had four from the same number of games and the Zambians had completed their programme and had been eliminated with just a single win from four ties in the group.
Zaire stood on the brink of their biggest achievement yet, the vast country tantalisingly close, and although the official attendance for the match was set at under 8,000, the stadium on the outskirts of the city was packed to the rafters with an estimated crowd of some 20,000. Morocco's strategy was remarkably disciplined and insightful for the time, with the visitors content to pack their defence and break on the counter attack as Zaire launched wave after wave of attack but without much success.
By half-time the home side's frustration was evident as the crunching tackles rained down on the North Africans, urged on by an increasingly desperate crowd. Shortly after the interval, there was an extraordinary Zaire goal as a frantic goal-mouth scramble culminated in the ball being forced over the line. The Ghanaian referee turned away the protests of the visitors that their goalkeeper Ahmed Belkoucrhi had been illegally striped of the ball before Kembo Uba Kembo bundled it over the line. Three minutes later Kembo had the ball in the back of the net again, doubling the lead and setting off wild celebrations among his countrymen.
But Zaire were not finished yet, seeing off a demoralised Morocco with a third and final goal from substitute Ekofa Mbungu, who had come on for the injured Kembo.
Zaire had qualified for the FIFA World Cup finals, the first African country from south of the Sahara to make it to the showpiece event. But so incensed were Morocco by the treatment meted out to their players that they demanded a rematch.
FIFA turned down their appeal and Morocco then pulled out of the last group game. It was awarded 2-0 to Zaire, therefore securing for them a 100 per cent record in the qualifiers.
*The star * Kembo had already earned a reputation for his acumen in front of goal. He was known as Monsieur But (Mr Goal) for his scoring feats, both for the national side and V Club, the most popular team in Kinshasa. His penchant for physical play made him an icon at the time and he was hailed as the hero of Zaire's successful campaign.
What happened next...
Zaire went on to win the CAF Africa Cup of Nations 1974 in a final replay against Zambia in Cairo, while Morocco - still fuming over the refereeing - boycotted the event. But when Zaire got to the world finals in West Germany, they struggled badly and were beaten comfortably by all three group opponents, reaching a low point with a 9-0 hammering by Yugoslavia.