Only 12 African nations have taken part in the FIFA World Cup™ since its creation, among them is Congo DR, who appeared at Germany 1974 as Zaire, the name adopted by the country during Mobuto Sese Seko’s long period in power between 1971 and 1997.
Congo DR was the continent’s sole representative at that tournament, and not content with that achievement, they also won the 1974 CAF Africa Cup of Nations, the second time in six years they had lifted the trophy.
A long spell in the wilderness followed those landmark successes before, in 2015, Congo DR returned to the limelight at the 2015 continental finals in Equatorial Guinea, reaching the last four. That run triggered hopes among fans that the country’s exciting new generation of players could go all the way in the Russia 2018 qualifiers.
With the final round of the preliminaries getting underway and the Leopards lining up in Group A, *FIFA.com *spoke to front man Junior Kabananga about their chances of fulfilling the dreams of a nation. “Everyone at home thinks this generation can earn qualification to the World Cup for the second time in our history,” said Kabananga, who plays for FC Astana in Kazakhstan. “We know that we have a major responsibility. We are going to do all we can to make that dream a reality, because we don’t want to let our people down.”
*Congo DR will begin their Group A campaign against Libya in Kinshasa on Saturday. Looking ahead to the match, Kabananga said: “We’re going to try and take all three points because we’re at home and playing in front of our own fans. It’s a good opportunity to start our World Cup qualifying bid on the right foot.”
He added: “We have to win at home. It’s often the team that wins all their home games and stays solid in the away matches that goes through. That’s why we can’t afford to pass up this chance against Libya.”
Seasoned African football watchers have Tunisia down as the favourites to win the section, but Kabananga does not see things that way: “I think all the teams in the group are strong and they all have the same chance of qualifying. True, Tunisia are there, but we can’t underestimate Guinea and Libya. No one’s going to have it easy in this group.”
We know that we have a major responsibility. We are going to do all we can to make that dream a reality, because we don’t want to let our people down.
Following the match against the Libyans, Congo DR will head to Conakry to take on Guinea. “That’s going to be a tough match,” predicted Kabananga. “Playing away is no easy task in Africa, whether it’s Guinea, Tunisia or Libya. We’re focusing right now on our first game against Libya. Then we’ll turn our minds to the trip to Guinea, which is in November.”
*Happy to be back
*After scoring one of the finest goals of his career against Côte d’Ivoire in Abidjan a couple of years ago, Kabananga suddenly found himself out of the national team, his return to the fold only coming when the squad for the Libya match was announced. “I’m delighted to be back in the national side.
"It always makes me very happy to be selected for the team because they’re like a second family to me. It’s wonderful to play for your country and I am always available for the side.”
Wrapping up our chat, Kabananga said: “I’ve only scored the one goal for my country so far and I hope to score a few more. I am always available for the coach, either as a first-choice player or a substitute. I am a professional first and foremost and I am always waiting for the chance to help my country win.
"I’ve been given an opportunity now and I’m going to score against Libya and help my team win. I am one-hundred per cent ready to come on and get a goal. At the end of the day, the important thing is to win and get the three points.”