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World Cup A-Z: Ilunga, Mwepu

25 May 2014

Iconic World Cup moments are ultimately defined by a moment of individual brilliance, or perhaps a determined team display, digging in against all the odds to come out on top.

In a funny way, today's focus falls on something that could arguably fit into both categories in the eyes of those who love a cult hero.

For one African man, revered by so many as a legend but mocked in equal measures for his stupidity, his moment of fame was something so much more significant than just a flash of naivety.

Mwepu Ilunga's rise to global stardom occurred in 1974, in the final Group 2 match between Brazil and Zaire (known today as the Democratic Republic of the Congo). The response to his actions focused on his ignorance, in truth the story lies much deeper.

Zaire's five-man wall was lined-up and ready to defend a Brazilian free-kick, 25 yards from goal. Ilunga was stood on the end. The referee blew his whistle for the kick to be taken and our man Mwepu needed less than two more seconds and seven strides to make history.

He broke from the wall and lumped the ball as far up field as he could. The speechless Samba boys looked on in bemusement; the referee duly cautioned the right-back for his misdemeanour.

As well as the official's notebook, Ilunga had booked his place in football folklore.

That seemingly was that, the only surprise - so it was to turn out - was the defender's disappointment at not being dismissed.

A red card was seen as the perfect protest against the authorities of the first sub-Saharan African team to qualify for the World Cup Finals. Fresh from a 9-0 defeat by Yugoslavia, having already lost 2-0 to Scotland in the opening group match, the players had discovered that they would not be getting paid.

Understandably they were not a happy bunch ahead of their match with the reigning world champions.

"I did that deliberately," he told World Football.

"I was aware of football regulations but I did that deliberately, I did not have a reason to continue playing and [risk] getting injured while those who will benefit financially were sitting on the terraces watching.

"It doesn't work like that. Why should I continue playing while other people are getting paid for it? I prefer to do that and get a red card.

"I knew the rules very well, but the referee was quite lenient and only gave me a yellow card. I don't regret it at all."

Click here to see the other letters in our World Cup A to Z


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