DR Congo made history during Sunday's 2016 CHAN 2016 final, becoming the first nation to win the African Nations Championship twice with a 3-0 win over Mali.
The Leopards dominated in the pouring rain in Kigali, Rwanda, with Elia Meschak scoring twice and Jonathan Bolingi adding to his team's lead midway through the second half.
Mali clearly struggled with the difficult conditions and lacked the raw quality to deal with the Leopards, who gave away few real chances and were remarkably clinical in front of goal.
As shared by Remi Sulola of The Cable, fans of DR Congo were more than a little excited before the match:
Remi Sulola @kisusulola1
.@thecableng Congo Fans going crazy for their team... #CHAN2016 @kayodetijani200 https://t.co/G0ZJsAJ6wp2016-2-7 16:21:17
It's but a short trip from DR Congo to Rwanda, and it felt like something of a home match for the Leopards, whose fans braved the heavy rain in Kigali.
Conditions at the Amahoro Stadium proved tricky, as the pitch was soaking wet, and DR Congo tried to take full advantage from the opening kickoff, shooting on goal as soon as they came anywhere near the box.
Zachaire Mombo tried to take advantage of a defensive mix up from Mali, as goalkeeper Djigui Diarra couldn't gather a cross, but fortunately for Mali, the chance came to nothing. Mamadou Coulibaly was the main danger man for the Eagles, but he struggled with his finishing and seemed to have difficulties with the conditions as well.
Lassana Samake tried his luck with a free-kick, but DR Congo stopper Ley Matampi, the hero of the semifinal win over Guinea, produced a fine save to deny him the opener. IGIHE was impressed:
22': Mali gets a free kick but Matampi's makes an incredible save #CHAN20162016-2-7 16:54:43
Coulibaly suffered a knock during the first half, greatly hampering Mali's chances of pulling off the upset, and just before the half-hour mark, the Leopards took the lead. Meschak beautifully controlled the ball and burst up the right flank, before cutting inside and burying a beautiful strike.
Nation Media Group's Robert Madoi loved it:
Robert Madoi @robertmadoi
What a goal by Elia Meschak!2016-2-7 16:59:22
Mali hit back almost immediately, drawing a superb double-save from Matampi, who seemed to deal with the heavy rain quite well.
Bolingi nearly made it 2-0, but Diarra did well to deny the 21-year-old, and Issaka Samake was lucky to finish the first half on the pitch, as he only saw a yellow card for pulling down Meschak as the last man.
BBC Sport's Oluwashina Okeleji was impressed with the first-half action:
Oluwashina Okeleji @oluwashina
42' #DRCongo 1-0 #Mali. Entertaining #CHAN2016 final in Kigali. Earlier, #IvoryCoast bt #Guinea 2-1 to finish 3rd. https://t.co/duFrpAMbIb2016-2-7 17:12:53
The Leopards did an excellent job slowing down the pace of the match early in the second half, forcing Mali to move forward and try to work the ball around in the rain, which seemed to be getting worse.
Chances were few, and with their very first counter attack of the half, DR Congo doubled their advantage. Meschak again made the difference, using his impressive pace to beat the defenders before rounding the goalkeeper and finishing the chance.
TV journalist Richard Kwizera thought the Leopards were on their way to making history:
Richard Kwizera @Muzungu4
#DRC on course of writing history in #CHAN. If they win, they will become the first nation to win #CHAN trophy twice. First was in 2009.2016-2-7 17:42:57
The Mali players stopped believing after Meschak broke their hearts for the second time, and Bolingi took full advantage, firing a low strike into the bottom corner to make it 3-0 with 15 minutes left to play.
As shared by this fan, goalkeeper Matampi copied Robert Kidiaba's famous celebration after the goal, sending the Congolese fans into a frenzy:
Game over. DR Congo extend their lead to 3 goals thanks to Jonathan Bolingi! Matampi with Kidiaba's celebration. https://t.co/0wpcVIJqQB2016-2-7 18:05:32
The third goal effectively ended the match as a contest, and the two sides braved the horrible weather conditions and produced few chances of note until the final whistle.
Per the Confederation of African Football's official website, DR Congo coach Florent Ibenge praised the local fans, who continued to cheer even after rivals DR Congo knocked Rwanda out of the tournament:
We had a solid defence but the midfield was the strength of my team. When you win, it is obvious to be happy and you are proud of your team. To have another star on your jersey is good news for any team. For this generation of players, winning the title is a good boost for their careers. The most important element has been the level of Fair Play exhibited at the tournament. Even when we beat the host nation (Rwanda) at the quarter finals, the locals cheered us on as we made way from the stadium to our hotel. This is not something you see in Kinshasa.
DR Congo's title is a well-deserved one after a fantastic campaign, and it's worth pointing out star winger Heritier Luvumbu didn't even feature in the final due to injury. While all of these players ply their trade in domestic leagues, at least a handful will have made quite the impression on scouts, and their careers can only benefit.
Meschak won't turn 19 until August and should be a wanted man in the coming months, and Matampi's valuation will have risen tremendously during the course of CHAN 2016 as well. The veteran stopper may decide never to make the move to Europe, but if he does, he should have plenty of clubs to choose from.