DR Congo's Leopards beat favourites Ghanaian Black Stars to win the first African Nations Championship in the Ivory Coast. In the Congolese capital of Kinshasa, hope was reborn among supporters after a series of defeats.
The sound of millions of voices and horns suddenly rose in the hot and humid Kinshasa night: against all odds, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) had just won the first African Nations Championship, a competition involving national teams exclusively made up of footballers who play in Africa.
Even the Leopards' most fanatic supporters did not believe in the DRC's victory after its recent failure to qualify for the next Africa Nations Cup and the 2010 World Cup. Banners shouting, “Everybody behind the Leopards” and “Long live the Leopards” in capital letters only appeared in the capital during the last few days.
Sunday afternoon, the Congolese had nothing to lose as they faced the Ghanaian team, who had defeated them 3-0 in the group phase.
Then came the surprise. In an outburst of football acrobatics, agile Leopards expressed their dexterity and sheer enjoyment of the game during the finals at the Houphoët-Boigny Stadium in the Ivorian capital of Abidjan.
A long centre pass from Dioko Kaluyituka finally landed on Bongeli Lofo's head, then into the Ghanaian net. In Kinshasa, fans jumped to the nearest piece of metal to make the sound of hope heard across the city. At 74 minutes, Lofo – again – passed to Bedi Mbenza, who turned the score into a final 2-0.
The Leopards could not contain their joy any more. Goalkeeper Muteba Kidiaba embarked on a sitting-down dance, his heels and backside rhythmically rebounding on the grass, while one of his teammates allowed himself a few keepie-uppies between passes. The commentator on DR Congo's national television had to move away from the microphone for a few minutes for fear of getting too "emotional".
In Macampagne, a leafy area of Kinshasa, guards at the gates of sprawling villas followed the match glued to their radios. “I am completely enchanted,” said Didier Kisila. “We were humiliated, we had lost hope. But now peace is back in DRC, the cup is ours, the reconstruction programme is underway... What a day!”
Date created : 2009-03-08