Niger’s head coach, Gernot Rohr, a former coach for Gabon, minced no words on the daunting task facing his charges in Thursday’s clash with resilient DR Congo in what will be an enthralling Group B clash at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, kick-off at 8pm CAT (SA, GMT+2).
“We tried our best against a top team like Mali and against DR Congo on Thursday it will be a very difficult game,” Rohr said ahead of the clash.
Rohr had watched in anguish as his side’s brave defensive play cracked six minutes before time when goalkeeper, Kassaly Daouda, who plies his trade in South Africa for Absa premiership rookies, Chippa United, fumbled the ball and allowed striker Seydou Keita to score the easiest goal of his illustrious career.
The ‘Mena’ of Niger qualified for the 29th edition of the continental showpiece for the second successive time after upstaging Guinea in the final qualifying rounds, but they face a revatilised Congolese side who have overcome mutiny in their camp over bonuses, to stage one of the greatest comebacks in the tournament in a 2-2 draw with pre-tournament favourites Ghana’s Black Stars this past Sunday.
The odds are stacked heavily against them.
Though well-travelled DR Congo coach, Claude Le Roy might have publicly picked Ghana’s Black Stars and the ‘Elephants’ of Ivory Coast to go on and win the 29th edition of the Africa Cup of Nations 2013, he knows if his resilient charges reach the knockout stages anything is possible.
Having fallen behind 2-0 to goals by Ghana’s Emmanuel Agyemang and the talented midfielder, Kwadwo Asamoah, DR Congo never dropped their heads but got a lifeline when troublesome TP Mazembe marksman, Tresor Mputu, scored before Belgium based striker, Dieumerci Mbokani, converted from the spot-kick.
Le Roy is upbeat about their chances against a plucky Niger.
“I am impressed with the character and courage we showed against Ghana, but the Niger game is a do or die for us. We have to give it our best and win the match because this is not an easy group,” Le Roy said.
Le Roy, one of the most respected African coaches, will be hoping his charges can take the game to the opposition from the onset as the combination of Mputu and the free scoring Anderlecht striker, Mbokani, gave the Ghanaian defence a torrid time.
The long serving striker Lomana LuaLua might not have had the best of games, but his experience is rubbing off on the rest of the team and all eyes will be on the dreadlocked Mbokani, who has been prolific for his Belgian side, to find the goals for the ‘Leopards’.
With goalkeeper Robert Kidiaba having displayed a heart-warming performance against Ghana, denying Gyan Asamoah a late goal with an acrobatic save, the TP Mazembe player will surely have more of his ‘donkey riding’ celebrations if the likes of Mputu, Mbokani and LuaLua get the goals on the other end.
Rohr might have been pleased with his team resistance, but still the Malians created a plethora of chances to have ran away with a cricket score-line and against the fast attacking Congolese, at their element, they might not be so lucky.
Niger’s over-reliance on striker, Issoufou Alhassane and Moussa Maazou, who failed to impress in the opening match against Mali, limits their options.