Congo DR and Mauritania get their quest for a place in the 2026 FIFA World Cup underway when they lock horns at the Stade des Martyrs in the Group B opener on Wednesday.
Both drawn in Group I of the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, the two nations finished in the top two to secure their spot in Ivory Coast and will now renew acquaintances for the third time this year.
Congo DR enjoyed an impressive campaign in the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations as they finished first in Group I to seal their return to the continental showpiece in style.
Having kicked off their campaign with two back-to-back defeats against Gabon and Sudan, Les Leopards looked set to miss out on the tournament for the second successful year, having failed to qualify in 2021.
However, a run of four wins from four while scoring 10 goals and conceding just one in their subsequent four games saw them storm to the summit of Group I, finishing two points above runners-up Mauritania.
Since then, Congo DR has struggled to grind out results as they suffered a 1-0 friendly defeat against South Africa on September 12 before playing out successive stalemates against New Zealand and Angola respectively.
Having played their last three games on the road, Sebastien Desabre’s side now returns home, where they are unbeaten in seven of their last eight competitive matches — claiming five wins and two draws — with a 1-0 loss to Gabon in June 2022 being the exception.
Congo DR will look to continue this fine run as they kick-start their quest for a first World Cup appearance since 1974, when they lost each of their three matches to suffer a group-stage exit.
Mauritania, on the other hand, were denied a third consecutive victory across all competitions on October 17 when they fell to a 2-1 friendly defeat at the hands of Burkina Faso.
Mohamed Konate and Stephane Aziz Ki scored in either half to put Les Etalons in a commanding lead at the Stade Pere Jego before 30-year-old Pape Ibnou Ba pulled one back in the 65th minute.
Prior to that, Mauritania picked up back-to-back wins over Sudan and Gabon respectively in the AFCON qualifiers, where they finished second in Group I with 10 points from six matches, before claiming a 2-1 victory over Madagascar on October 14.
With the goal being to make their first-ever World Cup appearance in 2026, Amir Abdou’s men, who are currently 101st in the latest FIFA World Rankings, will now look to return to winning ways and get their qualifying campaign off on the right path.
However, first up for Mauritania is the challenge of taking on an opposing side who have won each of their previous four encounters, scoring 13 goals and conceding one since April 1963.
Congo DR has called up 26 players for the World Cup qualifying ties against Mauritania and Sudan, including the likes of goalkeeper Lionel M’pasi, defender Chancel Mbemba and Galatasaray striker Cedric Bakambu.
Mbemba, who has made 69 appearances since his debut in June 2012, is Les Leopards’ second-most capped player in history, while Bakambu is four goals shy of becoming the nation’s all-time leading scorer.
Brentford striker Yoane Wissa, who has two goals in 12 caps, should join Bakambu in attack, while we expect a midfield trio of Gael Kakuta, Watford’s Edo Kayembe and Nantes man Samuel Moutoussamy.
Sint-Truidense striker Aboubakary Koita has lit up the Belgian top flight this season and the 25-year-old striker has earned his first-ever call-up to the Mauritania national team.
Having netted 10 goals in 14 matches, Koita is currently the joint-top scorer in Belgium, level with Cercle Brugge striker and Togo international Kevin Denkey, and we expect the Sint-Truidense man to lead the visitors’ attack.