World Cup Moments: Zaire’s Ilunga Mwepu Deals With a Brazilian Free Kick in 1974
You might not know the name Ilunga Mwepu. But you’ve probably seen him in action. Mwepu is the famous Zaire right back who cleared a Brazilian free kick in a 1974 World Cup group game by lashing it up the field. Before the Brazilians had chance to take it.
Obviously you can’t do that. So obviously Mwepu was booked (much to his surprise, apparently). In some ways you have to credit Mwepu for his quick thinking. In other ways you have to despair at his lack of football knowledge.
Mwepu has become a figure of fun since his inspired moment of madness. But seems he has a great sense of humour about the whole incident. Take his appearance on ’90s football comedy show Fantasy Football League for example. The show had a feature called Phoenix From the Flames, which re-created famous moments from football history. Mwepu agreed to appear, and also to make fun of himself by ruining the attempted recreation in trademark style.
Apologies to any dog lovers out there.
Obviously it’s hilarious. No point pretending otherwise. But according to Mwepu’s Wikipedia page, there was more going on than we realize. Mwepu claims that the Zaire players’ bonus money was being stolen by dictator Mobutu Sese Sekos’s guards, and the guards had threatened them with violence if they lost by more than three goals to Brazil. Under that sort of pressure, I might clear a free-kick before it’s taken too.
Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) were the first sub-Saharan African nation to qualify for the World Cup. They lost their first group game 2-0 to Scotland, the second 9-0 to Yugoslavia and this final game against Brazil 3-0.
Incredible to think how far sub-Saharan African football has come since 1974. At World Cup 2010 it will be the rest of the world fearing the free kicks of Cameroon, Nigeria, Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. Maybe a North Korean or New Zealand player will kick one away? Or maybe not.
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