The World Cup Alphabet: Z is for…






Zaire (now named the Democratic Republic of the Congo) had gone through a bit of a golden period before heading to their maiden world cup in West Germany in 1974. In 1968, when still named Belgian Congo, they won the African Cup of Nations for the first time and did it again in 1974 with ex-Yugoslav international Blagoja Vidinic in control after he had taken Morocco to the World Cup in 1970.


At the time off the pitch, Zaire was in a period of relative stability with the then anti-Colonial/Communist ‘President’ Mobotu Sese Soku’s private jet taking the team around Africa. Their star was Malamba Ndaye who top scored in the 1974 Africa Cup of Nations with nine goals and upon his return home received the ‘National Order of the Leopard’ which was the highest honour to be awarded in Zaire.


Zaire would be the first sub Saharan African nation to qualify for the World Cup and were seen as poster boys for the progress of African nations in the mid-70s. The fairytale of Zaire also saw President Soku giving massive gifts to the players as a thank you for putting the country on the international footballing map. Gifts included a brick house, a new car and holiday for the players and their families to the USA. God knows what would have happened if they won the World Cup. Would they have been given a share in the lucrative copper mines?


First up in the World Cup for Zaire was Scotland who still had a host of established stars like Peter Lorimer and Billy Bremner as well young stars like Kenny Dalglish and Danny McGrain. The naivety of Zaire perhaps got the better of them in the game as Scotland kicked them around the pitch and won 2-0 when it could’ve been more. The Zaire players claimed that they were also racially abused. Simon Kuper, in his book, Football Against the Enemy (1994), has written how Bremner called ‘ni—ers’ and that he spat at players.


The second match was rock bottom for the side when they were taken apart 9-0 by Yugoslavia. The Europeans were up 3-0 after only 18 minutes which resulted in the strange substitution of Zaire’s star keeper Kadazi. Rumour was that President Soku (who was watching in the stands) sent some of his military heavies down to the bench to demand Kadazi be subbed. It didn’t help of course and even Ndaye was sent off despite someone else being the one who made the foul. After the game, Ndaye stated that the referee was ignorant and that he thought all black players looked the same.


The television commentary also included references based around race. On British channel ITV the commentator claimed that the young winger Etepe Kakako trained by running down Zebras back in Zaire and that the defender Thismen Buhanga (the only player from Zaire to win African player of the year) was like Franz Beckenbuaer “but only black”. It was also during this game that the cameras showed the pictures of the Zaire players on the bench rugged up and disconsolately smoking cigarettes. They were a side that was completely deflated.


They were out of the World Cup mathematically but it was okay as Zaire had an easy beat in their final group game: Brazil. The defending World Champions were still in the hunt for a spot in the second round but a well organised Zaire managed to only go down 3-0 and by conceding a late third goal they condemned Scotland in what was a little bit of revenge.


One moment always seen as one of the ‘wacky’ occurrences of Zaire’s World Cup capitulation was when Brazil was lining up a free kick. Mwepu Ilungu, one of the Zairian players, broke from the defensive wall and booted away the ball. Initially, it was believed that he thought he was allowed to do so leaving his teammates and the Brazilians bemused. Zaire finished with one of the worst records at a World Cup. They had scored no goals and conceded 14. Only South Korea in 1954 had a worse record.


It was only in the years after their World Cup from hell did the truth come about what had happened behind the scenes in West Germany. After being awarded so much by Soku for qualifying for the World Cup the President then told the players they would receive nothing for playing in the World Cup just hours before they were to play Yugoslavia. Initially the players refused to take to the field but pleading from Vidinic and perhaps some ‘suggestive’ comments from Soku’s secret police saw the players take part under protest. Hence, perhaps, the 9-0 loss.


Soku then said that if there was a similar scoreline against Brazil then the players wouldn’t be allowed to come to home to Zaire so perhaps that is why they played a lot better and only went down 3-0. It was also believed the player who took the ball up the field from the free kick in the same match that was seen as a hilarious moment of ignorance from the Africans was actually a protest against Soku that the players wouldn’t put up with such despotic actions. The loss of 3-0 was good enough for Soku though and the players were allowed to return home.


This would be the last time Zaire/DR Congo would make it to the World Cup. The up and coming youth weren’t up to scratch (many Zaire players retired following 1974 in protest) and then the country was withdrawn from qualifying for the next World Cup because ‘it wasn’t in the best interests of the country’. Football in Zaire was not just the only thing on the way down. The whole country was with Soku’s plan of a Central African utopia not going as he’d planned. Zaire wouldn’t achieve anything in football until 1998 when they finished third in the African Cup of Nations.


Their star players also experienced hardships following their golden era. ‘Leopard’ Ndaye was shot in the legs by rogue soldiers in 1994 after returning home from an event in Tunisia honouring his career. The soldiers believed he had been given a cash prize. In 1998 when the African Cup of Nations was being played in Burkina Faso, a radio station reported Ndaye had been killed in a mining accident so minutes silence were held at all games. Ndaye was actually alive although he was homeless and living on the streets in South Africa.


The goalkeeper Kadazi also ended up homeless despite playing on until 1982 and tragically died a short time later. The DR Congo posthumously named him their goalkeeper of the century as a tribute. When others will reminisce about Zaire it’ll always be about the thrashings and the free-kick – but there was much more to it than that with despot African dictatorship making its debut at the tournament along with the first sub Saharan African team.


Football in Africa has come a long way since then with South Africa hosting the event in 2010 and teams like Ghana, Senegal and Cameroon all doing the continent proud since. It should be remembered where it all started though.





In 90s and 2000s no one quite ruled the earth like Zinedine ‘Zizou’ Zidane. A player of tremendous grace and fury his impact on three World Cups is unquestionable. A mark left for generations to come no matter how FIFA f*** up this grandest of competitions. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in 1998, 2002 and 2006.


Zidane was born to Berber Algerian immigrants in the Marseille suburb of La Castellane. One of the roughest suburbs in one of the roughest cities in France. Even as a young player Zidane was very prickly. His raw talent was only matched by his violent outbursts when provoked about his heritage and/or upbringing. At his youth club Cannes he spent just as much time cleaning as punishment for his outbursts as he did training.


By 17, he was playing in the senior side for Cannes and then Bordeaux and representing France at youth level. Many chased his signature including then Blackburn Rovers boss Kenny Dalglish who wasn’t allowed to approach the midfielder because the club chairman (apparently) stated “Why sign Zidane when we have Tim Sherwood?”


It was in England that Zidane got his big break without even playing in the country. Eric Cantona’s kung fu brain snap saw the firebrand suspended for a year which gave new French coach Aimé Jacquet the excuse to never pick Cantona again and bring in Zidane. Under Jaquet, the French team transformed blooding new talent from a range of ethnic backgrounds.  Zidane would be the playmaker and now had possession of the famous 10 shirt, a number that had been previously been warn by his hero Jean-Pierre Papin up until 1994.


Hosting the World Cup, France were going to have to fire in 1998 and finally rid themselves of the choker tag after failing to qualify for 1990 and 1994. Zidane was central to their attempt at glory now being a major player at Italian giants Juventus. In their second game, he was again provoked and again he kicked out receiving a red card and a two game ban. Without Zidane they still won the group but needed extra time and a historic golden goal to sneak past Paraguay in the second round.


With Zidane back in the side they got past Italy in the quarter finals then rallied to come from a goal down to knock out Croatia in the semi finals. This was where Zidane’s World Cup GOOD happened. In the final against Brazil, he took the game by the scruff of the neck and put France 2-0 up by half time with two headers from corners. France would go on to win 3-0 and confirm Zidane as a national hero and superstar. I guess he had to be when ‘Merci Zizou’ was put up on the Arc de Triomphe in 50 foot high laser lettering.


In between tournaments Zidane continued to be one of the world’s best players. He led France to the Euro 2000 title and moved from Juve to Real Madrid as a ‘galactico’. In Madrid he won the 2002 Champions League title with a mind bending goal that is seen as one of the greatest ever.


Zidane was in amazing form coming in to the 2002 tournament and France were the favourites. Then Zidane injured his thigh in a pre-tournament friendly against South Korea. The talk now wasn’t of France going back-to-back but more on Zidane’s injury and how pivotal it was to the French side. In their opening game they went down to Senegal in that famous 1-0 win for the Africans. Then against Uruguay a 10-man and still Zidane-less French side drew 0-0. Panic buttons had been pressed and Zidane was rushed back in to the side albeit half fit.


In what was Zidane’s BAD at a World Cup he hobbled around the pitch trying to will the misfiring champions around as they went down 2-0 to Denmark and out of the tournament. They hadn’t scored and in the worst shift by a defending champ in the history of the tournament. This didn’t seem to harm Zidane’s career between 2002 and 2006. The national side was on the wane though.


At Euro 2004, that wonderful Greek side eliminated them at the quarter final stage and Zidane along with a heap of other heroes of 1998 announced their international retirement. This and the fact they had a combative sometimes scattered coach in Raymond Domenech meant that France sunk to a level where they could almost miss the World Cup in Germany.


Zidane, Makelele and Thuram came back after being implored to do so by both coach and fans. After a slow start Zidane took the team on an amazing run through to the final. Zidane dominated for the French using all the tricks we had seen over the past decade lifting the talented yet fractured side past the fancied Spanish and supposedly unbeatable Brazil. Against the champs his amazing play to set up Theirry Henry with a pinpoint pass was one of the highlights of the cup.


In the semi-finals they outsmarted Portugal meaning a World Cup Final date with Italy in Berlin. Zidane was unstoppable by this stage, in his best every form for his country at the age of 34 – but then came his UGLY moment. The final started off brilliantly for France with Zidane putting them ahead with an early penalty. He was the only one holding up against a rapant Italian side who had done away with Australia in the second round, hosts Germany in the semi-final and had equalised soon after Zidane’s goal.


Zidane battled on in extra time and lifted his team like he had done since the beginning. Now the French looked like the one most likely to score. One pass went over the head of Zidane who was being marked by the unscrupulous Italian defender Materazzi who had hold of his shirt. Words were exchanged between the two and then Zidane turned around and proceeded to headbutt Matterazzi in the chest. Matterazzi went flying to the ground. What would the ref do? Well, he (like those of us watching on TV) hadn’t seen the incident. It was only when a replay was shown that everyone saw what happened with a majority cheering on Zidane’s actions. The ref was informed by his fourth official that he had seen the incident with the ref looking at a replay of the incident on a sidelines television.


The ref gave Zidane a red card and his brilliant career was over thanks to doing what we’d all like to do to a narcissistic loudmouth. As Zidane walked past the World Cup being displayed he never even looked at it, he kept walking for the tunnel, out of football as one of the great players of his generation and probably lit up a smoke seeing as he was a smoker.


He retired from all football never to grace a football match in a competitive game again. Italy won their fourth World Cup in a penalty shootout. Internet memes and other such things now defined Zidane in the aftermath. The infamous incident on the biggest stage of all had become worldwide news in what would be his final act.


Zidane played 108 times for France, the fourth highest amount for any Frenchman and went down as one of the most revered players of his generation. A colossal player of power, exquisite skill and borderline fury.


Before the World Cup, directors Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno, filmed Zidane during a game against Villareal on 16 different cameras all focused on the legend. The film, Zidane: A 21st Century Portrait was accompanied by the music of Scottish band Mogwai. The game would sum up everything about the player: he scored one goal, set up another and then was sent off. As a player, Zidane is remembered in pop culture for his final red card but was so much more.




Zero sleeps to go. Zero time to wait for Football Christmas. This is it. Perhaps this is the last great World Cup before too many teams, even more questionable human rights horrors than already occurring in 2018 and 2014 as well as institutional skulduggery that is stitched in to the fabric of FIFA. To me this World Cup feels, like the end of something. Like the tournament could go down a path I cannot follow.


The Australian team are not on a guaranteed hiding to nothing like in 2014 but it’ll be tough. Still, there are so many narratives to come through this side to should everyone damn proud. Especially if you’re a West Australian.


Trent Sainsbury will captain the side if Mile Jedinak does not and has come a long way from the South-Eastern suburbs of Perth. He made the decision to move to the Central Coast rather than stay in Perth, getting away from bad influences and becoming a man as part of Graham Arnold’s title winning Mariners team. Since then he was hardly missed a beat playing leagues in Europe and Asia. A classy defender and man of the match in our 2015 Asian Cup triumph.


Brad Jones, also from the Armadale region of Perth, was selected in the 2010 World Cup but then had to leave because of a diagnoses for his son that would eventually claim his life. It’s taken him eight years but he’s finally back there. Then there’s Josh Risdon from Bunbury – the right back came through the junior ranks at Glory. He became one of the best in the A-League and now will have a baptism of fire against the French. He may not be the classiest right back to grace our side but definitely the hardest worker.


There’s also Tom Rogic who is finally injury free and had a tremendous couple of seasons at Celtic with that cannon left foot slaying the ‘Gers and everything else in Scotland. You have the brittle Robbie Kruse finally at a World Cup after missing out on 2010 and 2014. Finally there’s Jamie Maclaren. The striker with a heard of gold who refuses to celebrate against his old clubs, leaves his complimentary tickets for the public so they don’t have to pay and had resigned to the fact he was not going to the World Cup. A phone call on the beach when on holidays changed that a couple of weeks ago.


The stories that run through this team are many and varied and add to the legend of the Socceroos that has run for generations now be it good or bad. Let’s just nick something off the French. Enjoy it. I know I will.



All of Dennis Gedling’s pieces can be found HERE.


About Dennis Gedling

RTR FM Presenter. Dilettante. Traffic Nerd. Behind the Almanac World Cup 100. Keen Cat, Cardie, Socceroo/Matilda, Glory Bhoy.


  1. Dennis, well played with this great series on one of the great spectacles. Enjoyed every bit of it. A monumental effort!

  2. george smith says

    Now that the series is over and a new adventure is beginning, I would like to make some comments:

    2002 is my favorite World Cup for one reason – time. South Korea and Japan are virtually on the same timezone as us. Staying up to watch the FA cup/World Cup is a young man’s game, I can’t do it any more. I was able to watch the final and England v Brazil at a reasonable hour.

    The final in 2002 was the last one settled in 90 minutes without extra time and penalty shootouts. it was a good game – not too one sided, it had goals, it was Ronaldo v Kahn.

    Upsets happened. The best and brightest were knocked over like 9 pins. Golden point happened, it was great.

    The worst world cup was 94 USA – the worst ever final, the murder of Escobar and the drug bust of Maradona.

    Thank you Dennis for a ripping yarn.

  3. Marvellous work, Dennis, particularly given you’re a West Perth supporter. (-:]
    In all seriousness, once the current World Cup is over (and I aim to watch the odd game), I hope you look at converting your A to Z into a book.

  4. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Thanks for this series Dennis. Now put your feet up.

  5. Rabid Dog says

    Thanks Dennis. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

  6. Loved this series Dennis. Magnificent stickability. For those of us a little older it has reminded us of so many World Cup moments/aspects/elements. Thanks for that.

  7. Great series Dennis. I hope to get back to the pub from the Eagles thumping of Essendon, by half time in the Socceroos’ game against Denmark on Thursday night. The Danes stole one against a clever but erratic Peruvian side yesterday. I reckon we are a better chance against Denmark. What will you be watching on Thursday night?

  8. Jarrod_L says

    Beaut entree for an already interesting 2018 iteration, Dennis. You’ve clearly put in a mountain of work. I’ve enjoyed reading it, cheers.

  9. Dennis, after just a few days of the 2018 Cup you already have quite a bit of additional material to extend several of your sections. Mexico’s win overnight is quite a sensation as is the Swiss holding Brazil. Then there’s the VAR! I support FitzroyPete’s suggestion that you consider a more formal publication of some sort. And, as Harms said , you have brought back many memories for those of us with a lot of grey going on. Stoichkov, Falcao, Socrates, Baggio, Kaiser Franz…the list goes on. Again, thanks for your efforts.

  10. Thanks guys glad you enjoyed it. Now sure on a book as there are plenty out there. Getting sick of these ‘honourable losses’. Geelong seemed to have one yesterday too. A lot to look forward to over the new four weeks.

  11. george smith says

    There is a disturbing little trend here. Soccer’s bad boys, Russia, Uruguay and now pompous England seem to be winning. Of course the ultimate Professor Fates, Italy, are back in the grandstand.

    Will the pantomime villains have their day? Or will a hero emerge?

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