Joseph Mwepu Ilunga

22 Aug 1949
8 May 2015
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Joseph Mwepu Ilunga (22 August 1949 – 8 May 2015) was a football defender from Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo). His name is also written as Alunga Mwepu.

He played club football for Englebert TP Mazembe in his native Zaire, with whom he won the 1967 African Cup of Champions and 1968 African Cup of Champions.

Ilunga played for his country, then called Zaire, during the 1974 FIFA World Cup, where he became famous for running out of his team’s defensive wall and kicking away a Brazilian free kick in the group match between the two nations (the final match in Group 2) before the ball was in play. He was subsequently cautioned, but some commentators felt that he seemed oblivious as to what he had done wrong.

However, Ilunga claimed that he was quite aware of the rules – as would be expected from an experienced player in a successful side – and was hoping to convince the referee to send him off. The intended red card would have been a protest against his country’s authorities, who were alleged to be depriving the players of their rightful earnings. Zaire went on to lose that match 3–0. They also lost their first two matches to Scotland 2–0 and Yugoslavia 9–0.

Zaire were then the first sub-Saharan African team to qualify for the World Cup finals; however, during the tournament the players discovered they would not be paid.”Most of the Brazilian players and the crowd thought that it was all hilarious, amateur act. I just could scream ‘you cursed!’ for all them, because nobody there knew the pressure that we was living”

Ilunga died in May 2015 after a long illness in the Saint-Joseph de Limete Hospital, Kinshasa.

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