The story behind the “cry of despair” that became the most unusual play of the World Cups

The story of the most unusual move in the World Cup

Las laughterlos murmurs and the jokes They took over the stands of the Parkstadion in the German city of Gelsenkirchen for a few minutes. “Who is that?”, “How can he play a World Cup without knowing the rules?”, “He’s crazy”. More laughter, bewilderment, and doubts turned a tense encounter into an atmosphere of rejoicing and fun.

All this caused the until then unknown right back of the Zaire National Team, Mwepu Ilungaduring the last match of the first phase of Group 2 of the 1974 World Cup, who eventually became the protagonist of the most unusual play in the history of the World Cups.

All eyes were on the selection of Brazil, who after consecrating himself four years earlier, reached the third game of the group stage with the rope around his neck after drawing 0-0 with Scotland and Yugoslavia. Against the African team was bound to win 3-0 to access the second round and defend the title.

That June 22, 1974, the reigning champion fulfilled her goal after prevailing with goals from Jairzinho, Rivelino and Valdomiro. However, the media of that time highlighted the action that occurred at 80 minutes above the classification of the South American team.

The Zaire national team was part of Group 2 together with Brazil, Scotland and Yugoslavia (Grosby)
The Zaire national team was part of Group 2 together with Brazil, Scotland and Yugoslavia (Grosby)

ten to goand with the ticket to the next round practically assured, the Romanian referee Nicolae Rainea awarded a dangerous free kick to the canarinha. Revelinothe figure of that selection already without Peletook the ball, placed it in its place and positioned himself while waiting for the referee to accommodate the Zairian barrier.

With the arch between eyebrow and eyebrow, the Diez He heard the whistle but never imagined what was going to happen. Following the order of the Romanian, Ilunga shot forward and finished off the ball with all his might into the opponent’s area. All those present in the arena, even his own teammates, were shocked by what the defender had just done, who under a rain of jeers that fell from the stands was going to receive the yellow card.

Finally, the free kick was taken again and the ball went behind the goal, but nothing mattered more than knowing who the footballer was, for everyone, he came to participate in a World Cup without knowing the rules the most important tournament in the history of sport.

However, years later the real motive would be revealed for which the Zairian had gone against the rules in a pure act of rebellion.

Ilunga was considered by many to not understand the rules of the sport

The desperate cry of a man to save his life

“I did it on purpose, I wanted to be expelled as a form of protest, but they only gave me yellow”, assured many years later the protagonist of the most unusual move in the history of the World Cups.

It is that behind that unexpected action was hiding a desperate cry to make known the reality that the Zairean team was experiencing during that World Cup. While outside everything was laughter and jokes, indoors, the fear of reprisals that the dictator could take Mobutu Sese Seko with the Blagoje Vidinic squad it became more and more noticeable.

To understand that fear that the national team had, you have to travel to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which at that time was known as Zaire and which was under the de facto rule of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko (in power from 1965 until his death in 1997).

With a view to the future World Cup in 1974, the African kleptocrat saw in sport another way of making himself known to the world, hiding his tyrannical regime marked by violence under the rug. It was thus that the Zaire team (name with which the military chief baptized the country in 1971) reached a World Cup for the first and only time in its history, no without first going through a completely controversial playoff phase in which, in the second leg, Morocco decided not to appear as they considered that there was a fix by the African Confederation (CAF) for their rival to qualify.

Mobutu Sese Seko changed the name to Zaire in 1971 (Getty)
Mobutu Sese Seko changed the name to Zaire in 1971 (Getty)

With the ticket already in your hands, The People’s Savioras Mobutu himself nicknamed himself, promised both Serbian coach Blagoje Vidinić and his 22 footballers a great reward for doing well in Germany: If they achieved a good performance, the delegation would receive an economic prize that would allow them to live for the rest of their lives. An incentive that was added to the vehicles that had already been paid for winning the African Cup.

Once installed in the Federal Republic of Germany, the Zaireans made their World Cup debut on June 14 against Scotland in the city of Dortmund. Over there, Vidinic’s fell 2-0 leaving a worthy image, to the point that the protagonists themselves left satisfied. However Mobutu, unaware of the low potential of his selection, issued his first punishment for what happened to the suspend the salary of the coach and his players.

Although it was never confirmed, everything that happened afterwards suggests that, four days later, in the next presentation against Yugoslavia, the delegation held a secret strike after the pressure exerted by the African dictator from his country. On June 18, Zaire was to suffer one of the heaviest routs in history, falling 9-0.

That added to the sudden substitution of goalkeeper Tubilandu Ndimbi for Kazadi Muamba after 21 minutes after conceding three goals, and the striker’s refusal Mayanga Maku to continue playing (he was replaced at the beginning of the second half) provoked Mobutu’s uncontrolled anger.

“The players got angry and demanded to be paid before stepping onto the pitch. To defuse the tension, a meeting was arranged with Minister Sampasa Kaweta Milombe, who telegraphed Zaire and Mobutu reacted very badly. They gave us nothing. Therefore, with completely low morale, we went out into the field, ”he recalled in 2018. Kilasu Masamba in dialogue with the magazine Africa echoes.

Iluga carried out the action in protest mode (Grosby)
Iluga carried out the action in protest mode (Grosby)

Finally, the last game of the group stage against Brazil arrived and a new threat from the African dictator resounded in the heads of the delegation: “If they lose by more than three goals, they better stay in Germany.”

Unlike what happened against the Yugoslav team, the Zaireans once again showed good football like they did against Scotland, but The level of the current world champion was still very far from being compared. The result was in the background, as was the classification of the canarinha (finished fourth in that World Cup), being the highlight the action of Mwepu Ilunga at 80 minutes.

“I did that deliberately. I was aware of the rules. What I didn’t have was a reason to keep playing and hurting myself while those who benefited financially looked on from above. I know the rules very wellbut the referee was lenient and only gave me a yellow card”, recalled the protagonist of that play in statements to the book Death or Glory – The Dark History of the World Cup-written by the British Jon Spurling.

Con 14 goals received, none converted and last in his area, the Zaire national team returned to the country full of fears and uncertainties. Automatically the campus was held for four days in the Presidential Palace according to the writings of that time. Although Mobutu initially warned the players not to return, after the elimination it launched a much worse warning.

“He threatened us, he told us: ‘Any player who stays in Europe, I will exterminate his family’. I don’t think she would have, but you never know. In 1974 Mobutu was at the height of his power. Who could doubt the execution of such a threat?” Masamba wondered.

Mobutu threatened the Zairean delegation that traveled to Germany (Bettmann)
Mobutu threatened the Zairean delegation that traveled to Germany (Bettmann)

as punishment, the African warlord practically ruined the sport by cutting off the economic resources for the national team, completely ignoring the members that made up that delegation, and preventing them from participating in the 1978 World Cup Qualifiers in Argentina.

As for the players, most were forgotten. Some like goalkeeper Kazadi died in poverty, while others like striker Mulamba Ndaye ended up living as destitute in other countries on the continent.

Memberwhile, He passed away on May 8, 2015 at the age of 66. in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a result of long-standing liver disease. The well-remembered right back had started his career at the age of 17 at Mazembe. With the club, the footballer harvested of the African Champions (1967-68) and four African continental finals, while the national team won the African Cup of Nations twice.


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