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DR Congo Leopards win first African Nations Championship (CHAN)

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AFP/FIFA - March 8, 2009

Leopards win CHAN
Photo: AFP/Issouf Sanogo

Democratic Republic of Congo shocked Ghana 2-0 to win the maiden African Nations Championship final. Dioko Kaluyituka put the Leopards ahead one minute into the second half at Felix Houphouet-Boigny Stadium in the Ivory Coast economic capital and Mbenza Bedi added a second on 76 minutes. It was the first triumph for DR Congo in an African Football Confederation (CAF) national team competition since defeating Zambia 2-0 in a replay of the 1974 Nations Cup final in Cairo.

The result dashed Ghanaian hopes of a CAF national team title clean sweep, having won the Nations Cup four times, the youth championship three times and the junior championship twice. Top seeds and pre-tournament favourites, Ghana entered the final as the team to beat, having outclassed DR Congo 3-0 seven days ago in the mini-league phase of a competition for local-based footballers.

Kaluyituka scored for the third time in the tournament to finish runner-up behind five-goal Zambian Given Singuluma, while it was the first strike by Bedi in four matches. Congolese coach Mutumbile Santos said he had learned from the heavy loss to Ghana and this was soon apparent, as his star striker Mabi Mputu came close several times in the early stages. The Leopards were more organised and controlled possession before a capacity crowd of 35,000 while Ghana seemed burdened by the tag of favourites as they laboured to find any rhythm.

Eventually, the Black Stars did breach the Congo defence and midfielders Charles Taylor and Ibrahim Ayew, son of former African Footballer of the Year Abedi 'Pele' Ayew, came close. While Congo continued to impress with their swift counterattacks, they did have a scare before half-time when Ghana captain Edmund Owusu Ansah headed narrowly wide from a Taylor cross.

Another cross brought Congo the lead on a pitch made slippery by pre-match rain, as a speculative effort from Kaluyituka evaded goalkeeper Philemon MaCarthy, hero of the semi-final shoot-out victory over Senegal. Captain Bongeli Lofo was also the architect of the decisive second goal, as his cross was controlled by Bedi, who gave MacCarthy no chance with a right foot shot from close range.


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