The 2012 Africa Cup of Nations winners open their 2015 campaign with a testing tie against a team coached by someone with continental cup experience’ albeit at club level
Florent Ibenge aims to harness the momentum that propelled his Democratic Republic of Congo team into the Africa Cup of Nations in their opening Group B game against 2012 champions Zambia in Ebebiyin on Sunday.
DR Congo reached consecutive Africa Cup of Nations tournaments for the first time since 2006 thanks to a famous 4-3 victory against Cote d’Ivoire, which helped them qualify for the tournament as the best third-placed team.
That followed Ibenge’s appointment last August as he retained his role of coach of Congolese club AS Vita, whom he led to the final of the CAF Champions League.
Three Vita players will join him in seeking to match DR Congo’s run to the last eight in 2006, which ended in defeat to eventual winners Egypt.
There is no shortage of expectation on Ibenge’s shoulders however, with one of his Vita players, Firmin Mubele Ndombe, last week named the best player based in Africa, while he also has Premier League stars Yannick Bolasie and Youssouf Mulumbu to pick from.
But the coach cannot look past the opening encounter with the 2012 champions.
“We are approaching the Afcon with a single objective: to focus on our match against Zambia,” Ibenge told SuperSport.com. “We will focus on our next match against Cape Verde thereafter.”
Zambia are now under the stewardship of Honour Janza, who was an assistant to coach Herve Renard during the nation’s first triumph in 2012.
Eight players from that success are included in the current squad, with captain Rainford Kalaba one of them.
He anticipates a tense battle given the level of familiarity between the border rivals, as one of four Zambian players to have represented TP Mazembe in DR Congo in recent years.
“Congo will be difficult because there are players that we know but they also know how difficult it is to beat Zambia,” Kalaba told SuperSport.com.
“Winning this game is very important because it will take us to the quarter-finals.”