DR Congo v Uganda: Leopards target AFCON final
DR Congo captain Youssouf Mulumbu is refusing to temper pre-Africa Cup of Nations expectations ahead of their opener against Uganda on Saturday, convinced a run to the final should be the target.
The Leopards initially impressed during the 2017 edition in Gabon, as they topped a group that contained Togo, Morocco and Ivory Coast.
However, they came unstuck in the first knockout round against Ghana.
Although they lost once in AFCON qualifying this time around, DR Congo only just did enough to finish second in the group, winning just two games. They also drew with Burkina Faso and Kenya in pre-tournament friendlies.
Nothing about that form screams 'favourites', yet DR Congo head to Egypt full of self-belief and skipper Mulumbu is convinced they are entirely capable of reaching the final.
"DR Congo's past in this competition has been very good," he told reporters. "I think we've made a few mistakes, but we're making sure it doesn't happen again.
"If we correct the little things we lacked, we can go to the final or we can win. I'm very confident because we went through so much during the qualifiers and it was a good thing for us because it made us stronger."
Their first Group A opponents, Uganda, had a far more straightforward route through the qualifiers, winning four of their six games to finish five points clear of Tanzania.
Uganda will be competing in successive AFCON tournaments for the first time since the 1970s, though they are rank outsiders in a group that also contains hosts Egypt and Zimbabwe, who finished top of DR Congo's qualification section.
With the Cranes needing to defy the odds, coach Sebastien Desabre thinks they must start with a win if they are to have any hope of progression.
"The most vital game for us is the game with DR Congo," Desabre said. "Our first game can determine our fate. We must win the DR Congo game so that we play the rest with less pressure.
"Our ambitions are so high, and to win you have to take some risks. I have told my boys to play with confidence and take some risks while attacking.
"To win you must score, which comes with taking risks."
PLAYERS TO WATCH
DR Congo – Cedric Bakambu
The team's top scorer in qualifying, Bakambu is surely one of the favourites to top the scoring charts in Egypt. Powerful, quick, technically gifted and a solid finisher – as evidenced by his 23 Chinese Super League goals in 27 games for Beijing Guoan – Bakambu is a fine all-rounded forward and he will fancy his chances against Uganda.
Uganda – Denis Onyango
Regarded as one of the best African goalkeepers, if Uganda are to stand a chance against the likes of Bakambu – and Mohamed Salah later in the group phase – they will need Onyango to prove why he is so highly rated.
KEY OPTA FACTS
- This is the first encounter between DR Congo and Uganda in the Africa Cup of Nations.
- This is DR Congo's 19th AFCON participation. They have won the tournament twice (1968 as Congo-Kinshasa, 1974 as Zaire) but haven't reached the final since 1974, when the tournament was played in Egypt.
- DR Congo are unbeaten in their last nine group games at AFCON, although seven of those have been draws (W2).
- Uganda have lost 14 of their 19 games at AFCON (W3 D2). Their three wins all came in the 1978 edition when they reached the final against Ghana (0-2).
- Uganda have kept only one clean sheet in their 19 AFCON games. It was in a 3-0 win against Morocco in March 1978.