Congo – AFCON 2015: Everything you need to know about the Red Devils

Congo: The Basics

Country: The Republic of Congo

Population: 4,662,446 (2014 estimate)

Group: A – with Gabon, Burkino Faso and hosts Equatorial Guinea

African Nations Cup History: Winners 1972 and Fourth Place 1974

The storyline

Congo, about to take part in their seventh African Nations Cup, are lucky to be in the competition at all. They were originally defeated in the second round of qualifying by Rwanda in a penalty shootout, following a 2-2 draw, before Rwanda defeated the Red Devils 4-3 on penalties.

In the aftermath, Rwanda were revealed to have fielded a player with two identities and were subsequently thrown out of the group stage –  with Congo taking their place. Congo made the most of the opportunity and finished second in the group, behind South Africa and ahead of African football powerhouse Nigeria in order to book their place in Equatorial Guinea.

The 1972 winners will be looking to improve on their last appearance at the tournament in 2000. They were drawn in a group alongside Morocco, Tunisia and eventual runners-up Nigeria. They finished bottom of the group, only gaining one point – after a 0-0 draw with Nigeria –  and failing to find the net in any of the three group games, meaning an early and uninspiring exit from the competition co-hosted in Nigeria and Ghana.

Since 2000, the Red Devils have had a total of 11 managers, most of them lasting less than a year in charge. However, current manager Claude Le Roy has been in charge of Congo since 2013, when he left the DR Congo job.View image | gettyimages.com

The Red Devils are currently placed 61st in the FIFA rankings – highest of anyone in their group. Their best ranking came in September 2014 where they were at the relatively lofty heights of 48th place and the lowest in April 1996 when they were outside the top 100 in 139th position.

What to expect?

Congo will certainly be in the running for qualification to the knockout round. Given the group they are in it gives them a fair chance of doing so, despite being up against previous finalists Burkino Faso – the favourites to top the group.

That said, they have a very young squad, a squad that have come a long way under the guidance of Le Roy, and not surprisingly the players have a lot of faith in their 66-year-old manager. Although, you could expect to see the complete Jekyll-and-Hyde team of the tournament – ropey at the back and fast, and powerful going forward. They may well be the side that most of the neutral fans take to their hearts.

They will be hoping Le Roy can repeat his magic of previous years and take them into the latter stages. Midfielder Prince Oniangue said recently that he believes having Le Roy on board means his side could reach the quarter-finals at least, so it remains to be seen if he and his teammates can back up that statement.

Tactical analysis

This side are very much a counter-attacking unit. They will play in a 4-3-3, or more likely a 4-4-1-1 system. Le Roy likes his midfield to drop back and get behind the ball, so that his team are hard to beat first and foremost. When they get the ball they will attack with a direct style of play and try and utilise the threat of Thievy Bifouma and his lightening–quick pace to get in behind the opposing defences.

Their weakness lies at the back, and without Chris Samba, who wasn’t selected for the squad, Le Roy will probably go with AC Leopards duo Dimitri Bissik and Boris Moubio as his defensive partnership – both were largely unconvincing throughout the qualifying campaign. They will be a weakness that the strikers and quick players of Burkino Faso – Jonathan Pitropia and Gabon – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can exploit.

Manager

Claude Le Roy has brought some managerial stability with him to the Congolese hot seat. Known locally as the White Witch Doctor, he also has considerable international football pedigree, especially in Africa. His greatest achievements are often said to be when he was manager of Cameroon. He led them to runners-up in the 1986 Cup of Nations and won the tournament two years later.

He also took Senegal to the quarter-finals in 1992, led Ghana to their highest ever world ranking of 14th and took lowly Oman to Gulf Cup of Nations victory in 2009, beating Saudi Arabia 6-5 on penalty kicks.

A low point came when he was fired by DR Congo in 2013 after a poor spell in charge culminating in their failure to make it out of the group stage of the South African-hosted Cup of Nations.

Le Roy also had spells in European football in the mid-90s. He was an advisor for AC Milan in 1996, before becoming director of football at Paris Saint-Germain in 1997-98. He also had a brief spell in charge at Cambridge United in 2004.

Key players

Thievy Bifouma is the most important player to the side, in terms of attacking play. As first choice striker Le Roy will be hanging his hat on him scoring the goals if Congo are to progress out of the group.

At 22, and only 5ft 11in in height he will rely on his speed to get him into goalscoring positions. He’s currently on loan at Almeria from Espanyol, and had a short loan spell at West Bromich Albion in 2014. He has three goals in eight appearances for the national side and will be looking to add to that tally during the tournament.

In midfield, Congo will be looking for Olympiacos powerhouse Delvin N’Dinga to get about the park and protect the back four. Naturally, as he is playing at a high level for his club side and has played in the UEFA Champions League, he is one of the main leaders in the squad.

One to watch

Hibernian striker Dominique Malonga is a newcomer to the international scene.  Once tipped to be a wonderkid at Monaco he now finds himself in good form in Scotland, and it could be a breakout tournament for him. His pace and power will cause issues for opposing defences, if he sees minutes on the park. Prince Oniangue is also a player of speed, creativity and technique.

Number one hit

Djunny Claude and his song “Tribute” is the current number one in Congo.

Famous dish

The most famous dish of Congo is chicken moambe, the curry-type meal can be served with rice. It is also the national dish of DR Congo.

Prediction

despite being above Gabon by one place in the FIFA rankings it will be difficult for Congo to get out of the group. The first match against the hosts will be vital – if they pick up three points from that, they will have a very good chance of progressing. This could set-up a potential second-round derby clash with DR Congo.

Realistically, if they reach the second round they will have exceeded expectations; a quarter-final would have them in dreamland.

Article originally posted on: Just Football

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