Zakuani talks Afcon with AFS
In an exclusive interview with Africa Football Shop, Gabriel Zakuani opens up on the Democratic Republic of Congo’s chances at the Cup of Nations and reflects on his stop-start season with Peterborough United.
28-year-old centre-back Gabs Zakuani is a man torn between the promises of the tomorrow and the challenges of today.
For now, Zakuani is focused on helping Peterborough return to the play-off positions, however, it is clear that he is excited to talk about the upcoming AFCON in January 2015.
The DR Congo defender admits the qualification fixtures distracted him from his club football, but put his international commitments to one side as soon as the Leopards sealed their spot at the Afcon as the best third-placed team.
“It was hard I think, more for the qualifiers, it was harder to be focused because there was two things going on at once,” Zakuani began, “but because we now know we qualified I can put that to the back of my mind and concentrate on the league football and then when that comes I put my full focus on that.”
After six league games without a win, Zakuani helped his side to victory against the club who gave him his Football League debut back in 2003, Leyton Orient, last Saturday.
Having returned to Peterborough in the summer, following a brief spell in the Greek Super League with Kalloni, Posh’s most reliable defender suffered a hamstring injury in their opening day win at Rochdale. His subsequent appearances have both been hindered by his recovery and international duties which secured the Leopards’ AFCON qualification.
Early next year, the experienced stopper will have to turn his attentions away from League One and concentrate on keeping out continental giants like Cameroon and the Cote d’Ivoire at bay in Equatorial Guinea.
Masochistically, perhaps, Gabs is particularly looking forward to a reunion with the Elephants, a team who Congo beat 4-3 during the qualifying programme: “I would like to meet Ivory Coast again, but hopefully this time it’s the final,” the former Stoke City man confessed.
” You don’t want to get knocked out early or anything like that so if we can meet them in the final then that would be good for us.”
Despite a large number of Africans playing in the Football League, Zakuani is one of a select few that will feature at the continental showpiece in January.
“Obviously playing for your country does not get much bigger than that for people, it’s a lot of pride and the whole nation is behind you but you also want to test yourself against the best,” Zakuani admitted.
“So when you do come up against teams like Ivory Coast, that’s kind of where you can see where you’re at your level and you enjoy playing those kind of games.”
With Algeria, Cameroon and Tunisia particularly convincing during qualification, Zakuani has not ruled out the possibility of DR Congo, the only side to qualify after finishing third, of winning the continental title.
“I think with African nations you never know, you think of Zambia a few years ago where they surprised everyone,
“I think we will be dark horses as well. There’s Ghana and obviously Ivory Coast as well, so I think out of them two, one of them will win it.”
Peterborough fans will doubtless want Zakuani back as soon as possible. He has started the last three matches and is a consistent, calming presence in defence.
“Now I’ve got a rhythm going, played the last few games and I’m happy to just get these games out of the way before I go to the Cup of Nations.
“At the moment it has been stop start for me, but right now at this moment in time I’ve got a good run of games which is good.”
The Posh centre-back has identified a long-term target his side must achieve to return to the play-off positions.
“I think consistency, we started very consistent, we were at the top of the league for a long time and then we went off the boil for a bit.
“I think both departments we need to work on, when we score goals we talk about the team, and when we concede goals it’s the team as well.
“So I think if we get both parts right, which we’re working on really hard, then things will improve definitely.
“I think the main thing is consistency, if we get the results I don’t think the manager will mind what the score is, as long as we win.”
Since becoming a permanent feature at Posh since 2009, the DR Congo international has witnessed many changes and believe the club have done most of their development off the pitch in the past 12 months.
“I think off-field definitely. You can see we’ve got a training base now, players working harder outside longer and you can work on things.
“So I think off the pitch there is a lot of improvement, there’s a new stand as well, so I think the chairman is doing a great job off the pitch and on the pitch we’ve got high standards and our aim is always to go up.
“So we will still be doing the same thing, but off the pitch that is the massive improvement.”
While Zakuani will relish the possibility of facing Ivory Coast once again early next year, he will hopefully return inspired for the remaining months of the season, aiming to put Peterborough back in the Championship once again.