In the array of national team coaches, Florent Ibenge stands aside from most others. The 55-year-old doubles up as national team coach of Congo DR and one of the strongest club sides in his country, Vita Club. In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, Ibenge explains why Les Leopards remain on course to achieve their goals.
At the finals of the Africa Cup of Nations two years ago in Equatorial Guinea, Congo DR finished a credible – and remarkable – third, after only securing qualification on the last day as the best third-placed team.
“When I was appointed national team coach in 2014, the federation’s president Constant Omari said that the goal was to qualify for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations finals and the 2018 World Cup. Making it to the finals two years ago was like a bonus and then the third place just made that even better.”
Since then, Ibenge has seen the team grow in stature and they have arrived in Gabon as one of the outside favourites to win a third title at the showpiece event of African football, which this year serves as a qualifier for the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017.
“We have steadily improved. Last year, our locally-based players won the African Nations Championship and with two victories out of two, we remain well on course to achieve World Cup qualification.”
The former defender, who played professionally in Germany and France, said that one of the reasons why the national team has improved so much is that many changes have been implemented.
“There have been significant improvements on important issues such as travel and equipment. We are not lying to the players. They know that everything is not perfect, that it is not as well organized as in their clubs in Europe. But we can also bring them something different. The national selection is now more competitive and more attractive.”
One of the players who will be missing in Gabon is Yannick Bolasie. “It is not easy to play without him, he is very important for the team, on and off the field. He was injured in December with Everton and will be absent for several months, and I hope he will be back soon,” said Ibenge.