Undoubtedly one of Ghostgoals favourite World Cup moments. Hilarity aside, it did cast a shadow over African football for many years, coming to represent their supposed naivety and lack of discipline.
Zaire were the first black African team to qualify for a World Cup, and 1974 was to prove their only apperance at the finals. The fateful Brazil game was preceeded by a 2-0 loss to Scotland and a 9-0 defeat to Yugoslavia. But for a case of mistaken identity Ilunga actually wouldn’t have been playing in the Brazil game at all. Against Yugoslavia, star striker Mulamba Ndaye was sent off for supposedly kicking the referee, the offence was, according to the Yugoslav coach, actually comitted by Ilunga.
Numerous explanations exist for Ilunga’s behaviour. The most amusing and surely completely untrue, being that it was a common misconception in Africa at the time that 3 seconds after the whistle was blown, free kicks became a ‘free ball’ and anything goes. Ilunga himself put his moment of madness down to the extreme pressure the team were under from their government back home.
“Before the Yugoslavia match, we learnt that we were not going to be paid, so initially we refused to play. After the match, 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.”
President Mobuto went on to claim that Ilunga’s actions had put back African football 20 years. Having been made promises of big bonuses and coaching roles, the players in actuality ended up with nothing. Final poignant words to Ilunga himself, “Look at me now, I’m living like a tramp. If I had my time again, I’d have worked harder at becoming a farmer”.