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Success possible for DR Congo 50 years after last Cup of Nations triumph

THE Democratic Republic of Congo suddenly has a chance of unexpected Africa Cup of Nations success as they prepare to take on hosts Ivory Coast in Wednesday’s semi-final in Abidjan 50 years after their last triumph.

The Congolese might be perennial participants, this being their 19th Cup of Nations tournament, but they have long since not been considered a major force in the African game, losing the prominent position they once held after decades of political instability, and economic and infrastructure decline.

As the former Zaire, they won the Cup of Nations in 1974 and the same year went to the World Cup in West Germany as the continent’s sole representative but have had no success since and did not even qualify for the last edition of the continental tournament in Cameroon two years ago.

But they now have a real opportunity, even if up against the hosts in the last four.

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“We are in the semi-finals and, of course, it would be stupid not to believe we can go on and get into the final,” said coach Sebastien Desabre.

“But it will be difficult, and our opponent is a top team. We will have to produce a top performance but it’s obvious, when you are in the semi-finals you first want to go to the final. And then, if you have the chance to go to the final, to win it. We will do everything to ensure we leave without any regrets.”

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DR Congo reached the last eight in the Ivory Coast without winning a game but were convincing in their come-from-behind 3-1 quarter-final victory over Guinea in Abidjan on Friday.

They had drawn their three Group F matches yet finished in second place and in the last-16 drew 1-1 with Egypt, before edging them on post-match penalties after extra time.

“Our first victory (over Guinea) came at the right time because we’re gaining momentum in the competition. You can say that we’ve only won once but consider we also did not lose in this tournament,” added the journeyman French-born coach, who has worked on the continent for more than a decade

His squad is primarily made up of players born in Europe but with a Congolese parent, reflective of the modern African game where national teams place a high store on players at European clubs.

Pulling together a squad of differing backgrounds – there are Belgian, English, French and Swiss-born players in the Congolese squad – has been Desabre’s success.

“The coach brought something special together by involving everyone. Everyone is fighting to go as far as possible. Since he arrived, he has pushed us to fight as a team,” said Congolese-born Belgian-raised midfielder Joris Kayembe.

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By MARK GLEESON

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