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AFCON 2023 - DRC: Sébastien Desabre's successful gamble

AFCON 2023 - DRC: Sébastien Desabre's successful gamble

With a 2-0 win over Sudan on the final day of the 2023 AFCON qualifiers, the DR Congo have booked their ticket for Côte d'Ivoire. The Leopards, who were on the brink of elimination after two rounds of qualifying, put things right thanks in no small part to Sébastien Desabre. Having taken over as coach, the Frenchman has turned around a team in the throes of doubt.

Sébastien Desabre, architect of the DRC national team's revival.

Few were betting on such a scenario at the time of his appointment, while even fewer believed that DR Congo would qualify for the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations. However, the Leopards finally booked their ticket for Côte d'Ivoire after beating Sudan 2-0 on the final day of the qualifiers. The qualifiers got off to a poor start. After the first two rounds, the DRC, coached at the time by Hector Cùper, were in last place in their group without a single point after two defeats to Gabon and Sudan.


Cùper's difficult legacy

The team was in the wake of its elimination in the play-offs for the 2022 World Cup, and under the Argentinian coach's guidance, it put in one disappointing performance after another. In 13 games on the Congolese bench, he recorded just three narrow victories, five defeats and five draws. The poor start to the AFCON qualifying campaign eventually prompted the then Minister of Sport, Serge Nkonde, to terminate his contract. Sébastien Desabre was brought in to give new impetus to the Leopards, who were losing momentum and confidence. The Frenchman arrived with his own style and made a number of changes, starting with his approach. His message is clear: "No player is above the team and no one will be forced to play for their national team. The fans appreciate this.

Other major changes include his choice of men, with the arrival of new players in the squad, such as Charles Pickel, who showed his mettle against Sudan. There have also been a number of returns, such as that of Meshak Elia, as well as changes in the status of certain key players. The former captain Marcel Tisserand, for example, is no longer called up to the national team.All of these strong choices set him apart from his predecessor, who often seemed to be subject to the choices of the Congolese Football Federation, which was in the throes of an internal war.


Mauritania's turning point

The highlight was the controversy surrounding the match against Mauritania, which had to be relocated to the Stade de Japoma in Cameroon due to the Stade des Martyrs' lack of homologation. This was a political choice on the part of the Congolese Football Federation, despite the fact that TP Mazembe's stadium in Lubumbashi was approved and could host the match. Finger-pointed by the Federation for having suggested this choice, Sébastien Desabre went to the mat and put his leaders face to face with their responsibilities, with evidence to back them up. In the end, he won his case and the Leopards prevailed over the Mourabitounes, in a Mazembe stadium that rallied to their cause. An attitude that will further boost his popularity with the fans.

The DRC are finally on course to qualify for the African Cup of Nations, but Sébastien Desabre still has a long way to go. He'll get a little boost from the fact that his team picked up points on the green carpet against the same team from Mauritania. After an appeal by the Congolese, the Mauritanians were found guilty of fielding an ineligible player, Khadim Diaw (who had already played for Senegal). The draw in Nouakchott on Matchday 4 of the qualifiers was transformed into a victory, giving the DRC two more points. This was followed by a win over Gabon in Franceville (0-2) on Matchday 5 to give the DRC a further two points.

The DRC are finally on course to qualify for the CAN, but Sébastien Desabre still has a long way to go. However, he will benefit from a little help when his team picks up points on the green carpet against the same team from Mauritania. After an appeal by the Congolese, the Mauritanians were found guilty of fielding an ineligible player, Khadim Diaw (who had already played for Senegal). The draw in Nouakchott on Matchday 4 of the qualifiers was transformed into a victory, giving the DRC two more points. A win over Gabon in Franceville (0-2) on Matchday 5 took the Congolese from bottom of the group after two rounds to group leaders going into the final match.

The rest of the story is now known, with this victory over Sudan formalizing the DRC's qualification for the Competition and marking their return to the final phase of the competition after their last appearance in 2019. Sébastien Desabre was at the heart of the victory. "We managed well. The boys are to be congratulated. We started with zero points when I took over the team, and today we finished in first place and qualified," he congratulated himself in a press conference after qualification.

At the time of his arrival, the team was on a seven-match winless streak and in last place in its group. Since then, he has put things right, with 7 games under his belt, and a record of five wins, one draw and one friendly defeat.He is back in the final phase of an AFCON, after the one he played with Uganda.

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