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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 January, 2004, 16:53 GMT
Lua Lua reveals Simba belief
Farayi Mungazi
BBC Sport, Tunis

DR Congo forward Lomana Lua Lua
Lua Lua is confident the Simbas can do well in Tunisia

The DR Congo's stand-in captain Lomana Lua Lua has insisted that the absence of key forward Shabani Nonda will not derails the Simbas at Tunisia 2004.

Nonda, one of the most prolific scorers in the French first division, was ruled out of Tunisia 2004 almost six months ago when the regular DR Congo (DRC) skipper suffered a career-threatening knee injury while playing for Monaco.

"Shabani's a big player for us and we're going to miss him, but at the same time we must see this as an opportunity for another player to come into the side and show what he can do," Lua Lua told BBC Sport in the team's hotel on the outskirts of Tunis.

"We know that in our team we can afford to have someone pick up an injury because there's always another player ready to step in and do a good job."

When Shabani plays, it takes the pressure off me but now everyone's now looking to me for leadership and I feel honoured
Lomana Lua Lua

Off the pitch, the DRC's football authorities are renowned for doing things with all the urgency of a marathon race between two snails, but Lua Lua said the players have decided to shut out any off-field distractions and focus on football instead.

"Everyone's just looking forward to the tournament because opportunities to play at this level don't come often.

" We all know what football means for the people back home, so we're here to win."

The DRC, African champions in 1974 when known as Zaire, face Guinea, hosts Tunisia and Rwanda in Group A and, according to LuaLua, are going into this tournament with their minds set on a semi-final berth.

The forward for English Premiership club Newcastle United also had words of praise for Mick Wadsworth, the recently-appointed English coach of DRC.

"We're all capable of big things, we're talented and our coach is treating us like his sons," Lua Lua explained.

"He's really doing a good job with all the players and motivating us.

Lua Lua's Newcastle United career has hardly been a bed of roses, with the player rarely featuring in the first team, but the 24-year-old is determined not to let his club woes interfere with his mission in Tunisia.

"I'm not here to prove anything to anyone because I'm playing for my country," the forward explained.

"I just want to lead my team as best as I can and people will then see what I'm capable of."

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