MARK O'HAIRE'S (@MarkOHaire) backed winners in three of the first four games at the 2017 African Cup of Nations. Next on his hit-list is Group C's encounter between DR Congo and Morocco.
DR Congo v Morocco | Monday 19:00 | Eurosport
It wouldn’t be the African Cup of Nations without a large degree of off-field wrangling and shenanigans. So step forward DR Congo.
The Leopards’ preparations have been hindered by a row over unpaid bonuses that goes back to the last edition of the tournament. Players went on strike on Friday and refused to train although they have since returned.
The dispute can’t have aided Florent Ibenge’s side but it’s not off-putting enough to swerve the Congolese, who’ve been priced up as outsiders on Monday evening against Morocco in Oyem.
Leopards on the up
DR Congo cracked the top 50 of FIFA's world rankings in 2016 having won five of their six AFCON qualifiers and picked up two wins from two 2018 World Cup qualifiers – battering Libya 4-0 and impressing in a 2-1 triumph in Guinea.
The squad was rocked by the news that star player Yannick Bolasie will be absent through injury but the Leopards are well stocked in forward areas with Dieumerci Mbokani and Cedric Bakambu as well as Neeskens Kebano to call upon.
Captain Youssouf Mulumbu holds the midfield together along with Chancel Mbemba but if there’s one area of weakness, it’s at the back where Gabriel Zakuani and Marcel Tisserand form an unsteady centre-half partnership – DR Congo have kept just two clean sheets in eight competitive encounters.
Still, this side is packed with experience in European football and their third-placed finish at the 2015 competition shows what’s possible with the quality in the ranks. The Central Africans arrive confident they can repeat the feat.
Morocco hit by injury
Morocco's lone African success came 41 years ago and their chances of adding to that title suffered a blow when stars Younes Belhanda, Sofiane Boufal and Nordin Amrabat were forced to withdraw because of injury.
Head coach Herve Renard – a title winner with Ivory Coast in 2015 and Zambia in 2012 – has been set a target by the country's FA of reaching at least the quarter-finals but recently spoke about his concern over confidence and belief in the camp.
The Atlas Lions have failed to make it out of the group stages in six of their last seven AFCONs, so whilst Renard’s only lost one of his 19 games in this competition (W8-D10-L1), the boss believes the group are being weighed down by previous disappointments.
Nevertheless, Morocco have drawn both of their 2018 World Cup qualification games 0-0 (v Gabon and Ivory Coast) and were undefeated in 2016. The Atlas Lions have only been beaten in three of 23 games against continental rivals since 2013 and under Renard’s stewardship are likely to be thoroughly organised.
The pre-match favourites are built around centre-back and skipper Mehdi Benatia but still boast a degree of flat and craft in midfield and attack through Mehdi Carcela-Gonzalez, Karim El Ahmadi, Mbark Boussoufa, Youssef El-Arabi and Faycal Fajr.
Morocco favour a patient possession approach and leave little space between the lines. They don’t provide a huge threat going forward and may focus their game on blunting the DR Congo forwardline here.
I’m tempted to again attack the Correct Score route but with both nations’ strengths at opposite ends of the field, I’ll keep it simple and back DR Congo with a +0.25 start on the Asian Handicap line at 7/9 (BetVictor). We’ll make money should the Leopards avoid defeat.
DR Congo v Morocco – DR Congo +025 Asian Handicap (7/9 BetVictor)