Bolasie leads tributes to former Zaire defender Mwepu Ilunga

By Oluwashina OkelejiBBC Sport
Mwepu Ilunga
Mwepu Ilunga with an acrobatic kick during the 1974 World Cup finals

Crystal Palace winger Yannick Bolasie paid tribute to former Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) World Cup defender Mwepu Ilunga who died on Friday after a long illness.

Ilunga, 66, worked as an assistant to the Leopards coach, Florent Ibenge, at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations where the country finished third.

"Sad news, the death of Mwepu Ilunga, he always had time to give me advice, I hope to do the country proud as he did," Bolasie wrote on social media.external-link

"He was a totally inspirational person, it's a great loss but he will always have a place in the hearts of the players."

Ilunga enjoyed a distinguished career at home, winning two African Champions Cup titles with TP Mazembe in 1967 and 1968.

He is best remembered for a famous World Cup moment whilst playing for the Zaire team that reached the 1974 finals in Germany.

In the final group-stage match, he famously bolted out of the defensive wall at a Brazil free-kick and kicked the ball down the pitch.

Zaire went home from that World Cup without a win, and conceded 14 goals - but the image of Ilunga stays in the collective memories of football fans all over the world.

Another current DR Congo international, Peterborough's Gabriel Zakuani, has paid tribute to his "mentor."

"Sad news hearing about the death of Mwepu Ilunga. Icon in football and great mentor for me," Zakuani wrote on twitter.external-link

TP Mazembe, also paid tribute to their former player and youth coach on their official website.external-link

"TP Mazembe is pained to learn of the death of Joseph Mwepu Ilunga, who played for the club between 1969 and 1980 and coached the junior TPM.

"The Former TPM player died Friday morning at St. Joseph's Hospital in Kinshasa at the age of 66 following a long illness.

"TP Mazembe sends its sincerest condolences to his family and loved ones."

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