Two months after qualifying for the AFCON in Côte d'Ivoire (January 13-February 11, 2024), the DR Congo will meet two opponents they had the opportunity to face in the qualifiers. First Mauritania on Wednesday (November 15) in Kinshasa, then Sudan in Benghazi (Libya) on November 19. Two important, but obviously not decisive encounters for Sébastien Desabre, the Leopards' French coach.
Sport News Africa: I hear you're not too happy about the match against Mauritania scheduled for November 15 at the Stade des Martyrs in Kinshasa.
Sébastien Desabre: My main concern is the possible consequences for the players' health. Let me explain: the match was scheduled for November 15 by FIFA. Now, and I'm only talking about the DRC, but this may also be the case for the other teams playing on that date, there are players who played matches on Saturday with their clubs, and who arrived in Kinshasa on Tuesday morning, after an overnight flight. So there will only have been one normal collective session on Tuesday! The players already have a busy schedule, coming to Africa isn't always easy, and with matches scheduled so early, we're playing with the health of the footballers.
Do you think your team will lack preparation?
Sébastien Desabre: You have to adapt. I'd have liked to have had one or two more days to work with my squad, but fortunately we were able to anticipate this with the training camp in Spain and Portugal in October, with two friendly matches against New Zealand (1-1) and Angola (0-0). We've been working together for over a year now, so we know each other. We've got a lot of experience.
Your team is being touted as Senegal's main rivals in Group B of the World Cup qualifiers.Do you accept this status?
Sébastien Desabre: It's a tough group, with reigning African champions Senegal as favourites. There are some very good, solid teams too, like Mauritania, Togo and Sudan, while South Sudan have made a lot of progress. But we do have a role to play. The team is confident, having qualified for the AFCON from last place after two rounds. The players have worked hard and are ambitious.
"We'll make an initial assessment after five matches".
Hence the importance of these first two matches...
Sébastien Desabre: Yes, they're important, but obviously not decisive. There are ten matches on the schedule, spread over more than two years. That's a long time.A lot can happen... We'll obviously be thinking about the first match against Mauritania, which we want to win in front of our home crowd. Then we'll be thinking about the match against Sudan. We want to get off to a good start. We'll take stock after five matches. Together with the players, we've set a target number of points to be achieved in these qualifiers.
Is the AFCON already on people's minds?
Sébastien Desabre: Of course, but not during this international window. Only the two upcoming matches are important. After that, we'll really be thinking about the competition. Of course, there are still places to be taken and places to be lost in the two November matches, for which I was able to retain 26 players, whereas there will only be 23 for the AFCON.