The first round of matches in the Africa Cup of Nations will draw to a close when Congo DR face off against Zambia at Stade de San Pedro on Wednesday January 17, 2024 in Cote D’Ivoire.
Group F looks like it could be a difficult one to navigate for these two and features African powerhouse Morocco and the plucky Tanzania, who will contest the other match in this group at this venue earlier in the day.
DR Congo have slipped from the spotlight in recent years and will come into this year’s tournament hopeful of lifting the AFCON title for the first time in five decades.
The Leopards of DR Congo have earned two continental titles in their storied history, with the last triumph coming back in 1974 when they were still known as Zaire, while their previous victory was earned in 1968.
In more recent times, DR Congo have struggled to make an impact on the continental stage, suffering three group-stage exits since 2000 and failing to qualify for three consecutive Africa Cup of Nations tournaments between 2008 and 2012.
They were in real danger of missing out on this year’s competition as well, as they lost their first two qualifying matches, which led to the sacking of their coach, Hector Cuper, but that seemed to have marked something of a turning point for the side.
Sebastien Desabre was appointed to lead the team through the remaining qualification matches, and the Frenchman did just that as his side clinched four consecutive victories to top their group, which included Gabon, Sudan and Mauritania.
The last time these sides met, the match ended in a 1#1 draw, which marked the fourth draw result between these teams in five matches, while the one win in that time went to Zambia 4#1 back in 2005.
Zambia’s Africa Cup of Nations history is a strange one since the last time that they ever won a match in the continental tournament was when they lifted the trophy back in February 2012.
Chipolopolo failed to muster much of a title defence, though, exiting in the group stages of each of the next two competitions while failing to even qualify for the following three editions leading up to this one.
Nevertheless, now under the guidance of former Chelsea manager Avram Grant, Zambia could be one of the dark horses in this competition and have improved notably over the last year.
Grant’s side were very impressive during the 2023 COSAFA Cup, where they finished second in their group but rose to win the competition, beating Lesotho 1#0 in the final thanks to a decisive goal by Moyela Libamba.
Since that result, Chipolopolo have played six matches, splitting them with two wins, two losses and two draws, with their most recent match ending in a one all draw against Cameroon in their sole warm-up match last week.
Desabre was handed a major injury blow just weeks before his side left for the Cote D’Ivoire as Watford midfielder Edo Kayembe was forced to withdraw from the team after sustaining an injury.
Galatasaray’s Cedric Bakambu and Brentford’s Yoane Wissa are expected to spearhead the side’s attacking effort, while Dylan Batubinsika will be forced to sit out this match, having received two yellows in the team’s final qualifying match.
Ayr United defender Frankie Musonda’s fitness was in doubt in the lead-up to the competition, but he has been passed fit for the match and will be eligible to feature in Grant’s starting XI.
Leicester City forward Patson Daka and Al-Fayha attacker Fashion Sakala were part of the Zambia side that won their Under-20 AFCON in 2017, and the pair will be expected to lead their side’s attacking endeavour with Enock Mwepu now retired from all forms of football due to a heart condition.
Congo DR possible starting XI
M’Pasi; Masuaku, Kiranga, Mbemba, Kalulu; Kakuta, Moutoussamy, Pickel, Wissa; Bongonda, Bakambu
Zambia possible starting XI
Mulenga; Phiri, Sunzu, Mwape, Musonda; Kapumbu, Mafwenta, Chilufya, Banda; Daka, Sakala
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