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DR Congos Le Roy puts Africa Cup record on the line
Flamboyant Frenchman Claude Le Roy puts a proud Africa Cup of Nations coaching record on the line Monday when his Democratic Republic of Congo outfit tackle Mali in a must-win Group B game.
The bespectacled 64-year-old with a mop of fair hair has been to six previous tournaments from 1986 with Cameroon and Senegal (twice each), Ghana and DR Congo and never failed to reach the knockout stages.
Le Roy steered Cameroon to the 1988 title two years after the Indomitable Lions finished runners-up under his guidance, and he took Senegal to fourth place in 1990 and the quarter-finals of the following tournament.
DR Congo were next to benefit from the vast knowledge of the nomadic Le Roy, making the last eight in 2006, and the man who is never shy to speak out on African football issues, guided 2008 hosts Ghana to a bronze medal.
But the unpredictable Congolese Leopards must bring the Malian Eagles down to earth and collect maximum points at the 60,000-seat Moses Mabhida Stadium in the Indian Ocean city of Durban to reach the knockout phase.
Ghana, the second most popular tip to win the 2013 tournament after perennial favourites Ivory Coast, lead the group with four points, Mali have three, DR Congo two and although Niger have a solitary point, they are still in the hunt.
While draws for Ghana against Niger in Port Elizabeth and Mali against DR Congo will take them past the first round, only three-point hauls for the Congolese and Nigeriens can keep them in the competition.
Le Roy, whose pre-Africa Cup anger at the way his squad was treated by Congolese officials over pay and other issues led to reports that he had quit, has seen the Leopards scale the heights and plumb the depths this month.
Outplayed by Ghana and two goals behind, the Leopards clawed their way back into the contest through a goal from inspirational captain Tresor Mputu and Dieumerci Mbokani levelled via the penalty spot.
Congo finished stronger and few would have begrudged them maximum points, which made a far-below-par showing four days later in a tedious goalless draw with Niger all the more difficult to fathom.
It got so bad during the second half that Le Roy replaced Mputu -- one of the finest African footballers not to play abroad -- in a match certain to be a candidate for the most sleep-inducing of the tournament.
Le Roy blamed himself for the points dropped against Niger, saying he erred in allowing the squad to stay up late on the eve of the match to watch a telecast of Mbokani being named the leading footballer in Belgium.
"Perhaps we lost some focus and concentration by celebrating the achivement of Dieumerci then. It is not the best way to prepare for a game," confessed the coach who switched to Kinshasa from a coaching post in Oman.
"Only drawing with Niger was a serious missed opportunity by us. Winning that game would have left the team needing a draw against Mali to qualify instead of a victory."
Mali found Niger equally difficult to break down until veteran ex-Barcelona midfielder Seydou Keita intervened with six minutes left, punishing a mistake by goalkeeper Daouda Kassaly to secure maximum points.
But the Eagles posed virtually no attacking threat against Ghana and were lucky to lose by only one goal -- although the pain of defeat was considerably diluted by the failure of the Congolese to win.
French coach Patrice Carteron said his team had to put the loss behind them, and the frustration at Ghana goalkeeper Fatau Dauda receiving only a yellow card when he handled outside the area with Keita poised to score an early goal.
"We need a point to qualify for the quarter-finals and must forget about Ghana and focus on the Congolese. The destiny of Mali is in our hands," stressed the former Sunderland defender.
The countries have met twice before in the Cup of Nations with Mali edging the then-Zaire in a thrilling seven-goal 1972 semi-final and the central Africans turning the tables with a 1-0 win 22 years later.
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