Republic of Congo: The Old Ones are the Best
Claude Le Roy’s well-drilled unit will likely line up in a 4-4-1-1 formation.
The veteran manager will look to get two banks of four behind the ball when under pressure, before launching forward and counter-attacking through midfield thrusts and the speed of Thievy Bifouma.
During their group stage, faced with two ‘more-illustrious’ opponents in South Africa and Nigeria, this approach worked well, as Congo picked up four points.
They often went for the jugular after sensing a weakness in an opponent; four of their six goals in qualifying came in the opening 16 minutes of a half.
Le Roy has cultivated a fairly settled first XI and, thus, it’s fairly easy to predict his team.
Chancel Massa started five of Congo’s six qualifiers, but he didn’t always inspire confidence and was guilty for one notable blunder in the penultimate fixture against Nigeria. Having kept a clean sheet when given his chance in the group-decider against Sudan, Christoffer Mafoumbi retains his place, with Pavhel Ndzila as third choice.
Brice Samba, of Marseille, was named in Le Roy’s preliminary squad, but was unwilling to commit to the Red Devils.
The central defensive unit of Boris Moubhio Ngounga and Magniokele Bissiki, who play together at Leopards de Dolisie, is Le Roy’s chosen pairing, although they were prone to some jitters during the qualifying programme. They looked vincible when faced with the movement of Ahmed Musa and the physical presence and running of Tokelo Rantie over the last few months….which doesn’t bode well.
Igor Nganga can also move into the centre of defence, although I expect the FC Aarau man to start at right-back, even though, at club level, he typically functions on the opposite flank.
The left-back will likely be Arnold Bouka Moutou, of Angers, although Francois N’Ganga, who is a more adventurous option, can fulfil either full-back role and may look to oust his namesake. N’Ganga is a versatile operator who Le Roy can also employ in midfield.
Marvin Baudry offers central defensive support, although he is also capable of operating as a defensive shield.
Christopher Samba—the Republic of Congo’s highest-profile player—has had a long-running stand-off with Le Roy and has not been named in the manager’s pre-selection for the Afcon. If Moubhio and Bissiki struggle in Equatorial Guinea, then Samba’s name may return to haunt the White Witch Doctor.
The side’s true area of strength is the centre of midfield, where Prince Oniangue and Delvin Ndinga are a formidable partnership. The two are fairly similar in their approach and qualities, but together, provide defensive energy and a bustling, rather than subtle, offensive contribution.
Ndinga can also operate—not totally comfortably—on the right of a midfield four.
Ladislas Douniama can be called upon as a creative option through the middle, while Cesaire Gandze is a more lumbering replacement for Oniangue or Ndinga.
On the left-hand side of midfield, the aforementioned N’Ganga is an option, although Sagesse Babele or Francis Litsingi will look to claim the position. Le Roy typically fancies the latter on the right, where he will look to cut inside on his left and support the forwards, although he’s arguably more effective on the left, operating as a more traditional winger.
Chris Maboulou, of SC Bastia, was named in the provisional 26, but the versatile wideman, who’s enjoying a breakout year of sorts in France, hasn’t made the final squad.
In attack, Le Roy has an established little-and-large partnership that he will look to trouble the defences of Group A.
Ferebory Dore’s 6 ft.4 frame will be a genuine match for Gabon’s Bruno Ecuele-Manga, for example, while the nippy Thievy Bifouma will look to operate between the lines and use his pace and movement to great effect. One suspects that Efe Ambrose will never be the same after his meeting with the Almeria man back in September.
Fabrice Ondama, Dominique Malonga and Sylvere Ganvoula are the obvious options from the bench.