The well-travelled 31-year-old forward will carry a bigger load in the absence of Yannick Bolasie who will miss this tournament because of a knee injury. Mbokani’s shoulders are big enough to carry that load. He is a typical No 9, tall, strong and packs a powerful shot. Mbokani has had several fights with the DRC management, quitting the national team at one point. Yet he gives his all whenever he dons the jersey. The holder of a Master’s Degree in Economics has done well for himself in the DRC with limited resources. He doubles as the national team and AS Vita coach. Ibenge guided Vita to the final of the 2014 CAF Champions League final and took the DR Congo to third place in the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations. Last year he won the Africa Nations Champions, a tournament for local-based players. His eyes are now on the big one, the Afcon. DRC are among the dark horses of this Africa Cup of Nations campaign. They finished third in the last edition after they lost to eventual winners Ivory Coast in the semis before beating hosts Equatorial Guinea in the third place playoffs. The Leopards are in a rebuilding phase. There will be a lot of eyes on Zaha, especially after he turned down England to play for his country of birth. He r e p r e s e n t e d England at junior level and played two friendlies with the senior team before Ivory Coast persuaded him to switch allegiances. The 24-year-old, who was born in Abidjan, is an exciting talent who has lit up the English Premier League. He will fill the void left by Gervinho on the flanks. The French coach has a tough act to follow, taking over a team that Herve Renard guided to continental success. Dussuyer proved himself when he led a lowly Guinea side to the last eight of the last Africa Cup of Nations. He was Henri Michel’s assistant in 2006 when the Elephants reached the final but lost to Egypt who were playing in front of their home crowd. The Elephants are in a transition phase after finally lifting the Africa Cup of Nations with their golden generation that was on its final legs. A new generation has taken over. There are only five survivors from the squad that were victorious in Equatorial Guinea two years ago. The trick will be blending the new players while remaining competitive to retain their crown. GIOVANNI SOLINAS’S resignation as Free State Stars coach yesterday has somehow given credence to speculation that he will be taking charge of Orlando Pirates.
The Buccaneers have been coachless since Muhsin Ertugral’s departure in a huff following the humiliating 6-1 defeat they suffered at SuperSport United in November.
And among the names that have been bandied about as possible replacement for the club that is under the temporary guidance of Augusto Palacios has been that of the Italian, who was in his second spell at Ea Lla Koto.
Pirates’ administrative officer Floyd Mbele, however, pleaded ignorance.
“The last time I checked, Solinas had a contract with Free State Stars,” he said yesterday. “It’s only now that I’m hearing from you that he has parted ways with them.”
Mbele said Pirates’ continued search for a new coach to lead the team going into the second round didn’t rely solely on any specific individual being suddenly available for the post.
“It’s a work in progress (the search for a coach),” Mbele said. “I cannot tell you who we are hoping to rope in at the moment, but I can assure you we have more than one coach on our list. Unfortunately I cannot give names.”
In what seemed an attempt to discount Solinas, Mbele spoke of Pirates’ stature while giving the profile of the coach they need.
“The thing is, Pirates is a big club,” Mbele said. “The person who comes here must be capable of handling the pressure that comes with the job and also fight to produce results going into the second round.”
The Sea Robbers have been struggling to produce results this season. In their last 13 league matches, they have managed just four wins and six draws, which has them lying 10th on the league table with 18 points.
Mbele added that whoever gets the Pirates’ coaching job will have to hit the ground running as the club would like to celebrate their 80th anniversary with some silverware in their cabinet.
“The season is not over yet,” Mbele said. “We still have a long way to go. This is an ambitious team. We go for whatever is on offer year in and year out. We never limit ourselves to just one trophy.
“Sure, we’ve already missed out on winning either or both of the MTN8 and the Telkom Knockout titles, but we can still push for something this season. We still have a fighting chance.”
Meanwhile, Serame Letsoaka will replace Solinas at Stars. Letsoaka, who made his name as a player with Stars, expressed delight at returning ‘home’: “I’m completely overjoyed,” he said.
MIDAS TOUCH: Renard Herve, coach of Morocco, is going for his third Africa Cup of Nations crown after leading Zambia and the Ivory Coast to the title. He has a wealth of experience on the continent.