Robson Sharuko in CAIRO, Egypt
CONGOLESE coach Florent Ibenge still wants his Leopards to play for their badge, and their fans, by completing their 2019 AFCON Group A campaign with a victory on Sunday night which will send the Warriors crashing out of the tournament, at the group stages, yet again.
Although the former African football champions could be out of the race for a place in the last 16, after a miserable start that has seen them lose their opening two games against Uganda and Egypt without scoring, and conceding four goals, they still want to go out with a bang. Incredibly, there could be a very small window, depending on results elsewhere, where a win for them against Zimbabwe, could see them squeeze into the knock-out games as one of the best four third-placed teams but, with their poor goal difference, and four points likely to be the mark that provides a reprieve, the Congolese look down and out.
The Warriors can get to four points, with a win over the DRC — whom they met twice in the qualifiers, beating them in Kinshasa 2-1 before a controversial 1-1 draw in Harare where Knox Mutizwa’s attempt was somehow ruled out — and that should be fine for one of the third-place tickets.
Depending on what happens in the match between Egypt and Uganda, which the Pharaohs cannot afford to lose because they need to finish top of the group to avoid the top team in Group B, the Warriors could even still qualify as one of the runners-up should they win against the DRC.
But, that won’t be easy after the Congolese emerged from a poor show against the Cranes to turn on a hearty performance against the Pharaohs and were unlucky to lose a match they struck the post twice and came close to scoring on a number of occasions.
This was like watching the real Congolese — the side that finished third at the 2015 AFCON finals and, if they can play as well as they did in the second half against the Pharaohs, they could give the Warriors a few headaches.
However, while they appear to be strong from midfield, and going forward, their defence remains a major concern and now and, against the lively Warriors forwards, could be punished again.
“We did not deserve to lose (against Egypt),’’ said Ibenge. “Yes, we played a bad game against Uganda but this time we had a very good game against Egypt.
“I feel sorry for the players who gave their best today against a strong team like Egypt.
“We will fight in the next match against Zimbabwe to get the three points. (Mohamed) Salah and (Mahmoud) Trezeguet are amazing players and they make the difference for Egypt.’’
Liverpool superstar Salah was a constant threat for the Congolese with his positioning and pace and opened his 2019 AFCON account with a good goal that was created by the impressive Trezeguet.
Zimbabwe coach, Sunday Chidzambwa, knows that it will be difficult against the Congolese because, after the two matches the two teams played against each other in the qualifiers, the Central Africans now have a good insight of how the Warriors play.
If there is a concern for Chidzambwa, then it’s how his men have been slow to start proceedings, only reacting after they fall behind, and the midfield hasn’t clicked as it should while good chances have been wasted. It was the same script against the Cranes but the midfield was lacking its star player, Marvelous Nakamba, who was injured for this contest. “I congratulate Uganda, they have four points and are near qualification,’’ said Chidzambwa.
“We played better than the opening game against Egypt and missed many chances. I thank my players on this better performance. When you lose the first game this affects your morale negatively.”