DR Congo: Leopards on the Loose
Florent Ibenge likes to play with a 4-4-2 formation, but has the players to push his wide men forward and drop one forward back to create a 4-2-3-1.
I suspect he will start with the former, although may modify back to the second if a third body is required in midfield.
The defensive unit largely picks itself.
Eccentric stopper Robert Kidiaba of Tout Puissant Mazembe will compete at his third Cup of Nations tournament, and the veteran has confirmed that he will retire from international duty after the competition.
The full-backs, Jean Kasusula on the left and Issama Mpeko on the right largely held their own against Cameroon’s widemen in Yaounde, but were found wanting by Gervinho and his Ivorian teammates in the middle of October. They will be not be facing such talent in the AFCON group stage, however and will feel confident of dealing with the threats posed by Tunisia, Cape Verde and Zambia.
The centre of defence is an area of strength. Cedric Mongongu will take one berth, while Champions League star Chancel Mbemba and Joel Kimwaki will compete to partner him. The latter has a good understanding with the goalkeeper, but it will be hard to overlook Mbemba after some excellent recent displays for Anderlecht.
Gabs Zakuani, of Peterborough, is another option.
Youssouf Mulumbu will hold the fort in the middle of the park alongside, I expect, the creative Cedric Makiadi.
In this case, Mulumbu will provide the muscle, while Makiadi, who can also put himself about, will aim to hit the space with seeking passes.
Distel Zola, once of AS Monaco, now of Ligue 2 Chateauroux, and Basisila Lusadisu, a familiar face to anyone who watches Africa’s continental club competitions, were other potential options, but neither man has made the final selection of 23.
Zakuani was even used as a midfield holder in the victory over the Cote d’Ivoire, but this would feel like a negative step in the evenly-balanced Group B.
Jean Munganga, of AS Vita Club, is another defensive option in midfield.
On the left, the team’s cynosure, Yannick Bolasie, has a bag of tricks and capable of terrorising opposition defenders. His showing against the Cote d’Ivoire was outstanding and he will be keen to emulate it in front of a broader audience in 2015.
Cedrick Mabwati, on the right, is more measured and will be more likely to attempt to cross on his right than cut inside onto his weaker left foot.
Ndombe Mubele and Neeskens Kebano are options on either flank, although one suspects that the Charleroi man in particular would prefer a Number 10 role. Kebano could also drop into the heart of midfield, alongside Mulumbu.
If the Leopards do opt for a 4-2-3-1 formation, the central playmaker role with likely fall to either Kebano or AS Vita Club youngster Lema Mabidi.
Many would have loved to have seen this responsibility fall to one-time wonderkid Tresor Mputu, now 29 and supposedly in his prime, but the erstwhile skipper hasn’t featured for the Central Africans since June 2013, and his desuetude won’t end in Equatorial Guinea.
Former star striker Dieumerci Mbokani has also been out of the picture since last summer, but in his case, a desperate recent injury record has severely stymied his progress at Dynamo Kyiv after a fine start. The powerful hitman recently returned to the first team and returned to international duties for a recent friendly against Cameroon.
In his absence, a partnership between Jeremy Bokila and Junior Kabananga has begun to bear fruit. Both are towering, powerful forwards who will be a handful for opponents, particularly aerially. The latter sits joint-ninth in the Belgian scoring charts currently, while the less said about Bokila’s struggles in Russia, the better.
The likes of Heritier Luvumbu Nzinga and Firmin Mubele will offer options from the bench.