NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 23 – Democratic Republic of Congo head coach Florent Ibenge says the Harambee Stars friendly match on Sunday in Machakos will be vital as they prepare to tackle their biggest ambition of making it to the FIFA World Cup for the first time since 1974.
DR Congo who lead Group A of the third round qualifiers with six points play second placed Tunisia in a back-to-back 2018 World Cup qualifiers in August and September and wins in both ties will see them inch closer to a ticket to the 2018 showpiece in Russia.
“This is an important match for us because at the moment we are building up with our target being the World Cup qualification. We are trying to build up a good team and such matches help us test all our players,” the soft-spoken Ibenge told Capital Sport.
Ibenge had earlier hinted after the African Cup of Nations in February that he will be quitting his post in 2018 and he now believes getting a World Cup qualification will be the mark of his reign at the helm of the Les Leopards having already led the team to the African Nations Championship (CHAN) title in 2016.
“We have two matches against Tunisia and we want to win them because if we do so we will qualify. It will be historic for us after only four games. We have to work a lot because that is the biggest thing we want now,” the former Shanghai Shenhua coach noted.
Also in his targets is the defense of their CHAN title in Kenya next year as well as ensure the team qualifies for the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON).
He revealed that the side is not disappointed despite bowing out in the last eight during the Gabon championship. “For us we had gone there to give our best and I am not disappointed we didn’t win. I think we gave a good game and next time we only have to do better,” the coach added.
Ahead of the Kenya game, Ibenge has made it clear his ambition is to win especially with Kenya having won the earlier meeting between the two sides last year in Lubumbashi.
“It is a friendly match but it is an international game and we have to be competitive. We have to ensure that we go in and win because that is what we have to do in every match. We expect a tough match because Kenya is not an easy team,” the tactician noted.
His sentiments were shared by midfielder Neeskens Kebano who turns out for English second tier side Fulham FC, underling that the players will be up to win the match in Machakos.
“It is a good opportunity for us to build as a team because our target is on the World Cup and playing such matches as these are important to build the team. We know Kenya are a good side and they have good individual players so we will take this game very seriously,” Kebano, who was part of the DR Congo squad at the AFCON in Gabon said.
The side will be boosted by the arrival of Villareal striker Cedric Bakambu who had earlier hinted he might not come. Assistant coach Mwinyi Zahera told Capital Sport the striker was busy planning for his upcoming wedding but has hinted he will be travelling to Nairobi prior to the Sunday match.
“Cedric is one of our good strikers and having him in the team is great. He didn’t do well in AFCON because he had a problem but we know his ability and what he can do. He is very important to us especially for the future,” Ibenge said.
However, they will miss the services of Hull City forward Diumerci Mbokani who pulled out of the game with a thigh injury. Seville midfielder Steven N’Zonzi also pulled out late and will not travel in as earlier planned but Ibenge hopes he will be available for the August qualifiers.
The Leopards have put up a strong squad that includes former Chelsea winger Gael Kakuta, Firmin Mubele who turns out for Rennes in France, Standard Liege forward Bolingi Mpangi and AFCON top scorer Junior Kabananga who plays his club football with Astana in Kazakhstan.
Ibenge has handed maiden call ups to striker Elias Katchunga who turns out for Huddersfield in the English Championship and Yeni Ngbakoto who plays for Queens Park Rangers in the English second tier.
Katchunga has represented Germany in the Under-19 and Under-21 categories while Ngbakoto has played for the French junior sides but both are eligible to turn out for DR Congo.