DR Congo v Morocco: 'Confidence' the Atlas Lions' biggest hindrance ahead of AFCON opener

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Herve Renard is hoping to win his third Africa Cup of Nations title as a coach but is well aware of the task facing Morocco in Group C ahead of their opener against a resurgent DR Congo on Monday.

After breaking into the top 50 of FIFA's world rankings in 2016, DR Congo appear to be getting somewhere close to their former glory days of the 1960s and 70s, when they won AFCON in '68 and '74, as Congo-Kinshasa and Zaire, respectively.

Two years ago they managed to finish third in Equatorial Guinea and they possess a squad with a significant amount of experience in European football, making them an interesting proposition in terms of progression to the knockout phase after getting past their pre-tournament row over unpaid bonuses.

But Group C looks set to be fiercely contested, and Morocco - who have only reached the final once since their solitary triumph over in the 1976 showpiece against DR Congo - have big expectations, with a semi-final spot demanded of Renard when he took the job in February 2016.

Frenchman Renard, who won with Zambia in 2012 and Ivory Coast three years later, is refusing to get ahead of himself, though, insisting that for now he is looking no further than getting out of the group.

"The hardest part will be this first round with Ivory Coast and DR Congo, two massive teams, as well as Togo," he told reporters. "I put pressure on myself because I am not afraid to say that not reaching the quarter-finals would be a failure.

"Morocco have not done anything in a major competition for 15 years [13 years, as they were 2004 AFCON finalists] now. That is a long time and there is a lot of expectation.

"The biggest problem for Morocco coming into this competition is to say to ourselves that we are capable of doing something and to go out and do it. We need to have confidence in ourselves, not fear anyone."

 

PLAYER TO WATCH

DR Congo: Cedric Bakambu

Villarreal striker Bakambu has not been quite up to the standard he set last season, when he scored 22 goals across all competitions and attracted interest from Paris Saint-Germain, but he will be one of DR Congo's main threats in attack and boasts a number of strengths that make him a versatile talent.

Rapid, strong and an able finisher, the 25-year-old is both capable on the deck and in the air, and that flexibility will make him an effective alternative - or partner - for Dieumerci Mbokani.

Morocco: Medhi Benatia

While Mehdi Carcela-Gonzalez, Mbark Boussoufa, Youssef El-Arabi and Faycal Fajr will provide plenty of flair and craft in attack, at the back Morocco are not quite as well stocked.

But in Medhi Benatia they have a centre-back - and captain - who has spent seven years playing at the highest level with Udinese, Roma, Bayern Munich and now Juventus, and he will be expected to lead by example if Morocco are to prevail against the varied attacking talents possessed by DR Congo and Ivory Coast.

 

KEY OPTA STATS:

-This is Morocco's 16th AFCON participation. Their only title dates back to 1976, when they beat DR Congo (Zaire as they were then called) in the group stages (1-0).
-Morocco have failed to make it out of the group stages in six of their last seven AFCON participations, the only exception coming in 2004 when they were beaten finalists against Tunisia.
-Dieumerci Mbokani has scored five and assisted one of DR Congo's last nine AFCON goals.
-This is Herve Renard's fifth AFCON as manager - he's only lost one of his 19 games (W8 D10). The Morocco boss is the only one to have won the tournament with two different teams (Zambia in 2012, Ivory Coast in 2015).
- Six of DR Congo's last seven goals at the AFCON have been scored after the 60th minute.