Ilunga Mwepu vs Brazil
In footballing terms the emergence of Holland, Total Football and Johan Cruyff were the real story of the 1974 World Cup in West Germany.
However, the most entertaining moment, at least at the time, was Ilunga Mwepa and the free-kick incident against Brazil.
Zaire’s appearance at the World Cup in 1974, the first sub-Saharan African side to appear in the finals, must have been a proud moment for black Africans.
However, the team did not fare well and they crashed out of the tournament in the group stage without scoring a goal and conceding 14 – including a 9-0 thrashing at the hands of Yugoslavia.
The infamous moment of the tournament came against Brazil. The Brazilian’s were awarded a free-kick 30 yards from the Zaire goal. Zaire form a wall and the referee blows the whistle.
Hearing the whistle, and appearing to not to have the first clue about the rules of football, Zaire right back Ilunga Mwepa charges out of the wall and smacks the ball 70 yards down the pitch.
The incident was a microcosm of Zaire in Germany that year, with the team becoming the farce of the tournament. However, according to Mwepa there was a more sinister side to their World Cup campaign.
In an interview with Brazillian FourFourTwo Magazine in 2002, Mwepu claimed that the players had to perform without pay and the threat of serious violence.
“Before the Yugoslavia match (which Zaire lost 9-0) we learnt that we were not going to be paid, so we refused to play.
“After the match, he (then Zaire leader President Mobutu) sent his presidential guards to threaten us. They closed the hotel to all journalists and said that if we lost by more than three goals to Brazil, none of us would be able to return home.”
He added: “I panicked and kicked the ball away before he (Rivelino) had taken it. Most of the Brazil players, and the crowd too, thought it was hilarious. I shouted, ‘You bastards!’ at them because they didn’t understand the pressure we were under.”
The incident, and the corruption and despair surrounding the Zaire side, set black African football back years and reinforced stereotypes, perhaps with foundation, that the team was naïve and ignorant to the rules.
Black African footballers would have to wait until Cameroon and 1990 before they were taken seriously again.