The phone call informed him that the central African country had grabbed an unexpected place at next-years' finals in Equatorial Guinea after finishing as the best of the third-placed teams from the seven groups in the qualifying competition. Earlier in the day, the Leopards had won their final Group D game against Sierra Leone 3-1, but as Côte d'Ivoire managed to secure a goalless draw in a match played at the same time in Abidjan against Cameroon, the Leopards finished third behind the Indomitable Lions and the Elephants
After an anxious wait for several hours, Kebano and his team-mates finally got the news that took him back to the very top of the roller coast ride. Although he would have preferred to remain in the country, Kebano boarded the flight that took him back to his Belgium club Charleroi. "I would have liked to party in the country, but all I had was an hour. I had professional obligations, I had to go home. However, I am very proud of the qualification,” he said, adding that he had been told that the whole country had celebrated the qualification. “The feedback I've had, it was truly on fire in Kinshasa. Everyone was happy and that's good.”
Kebano's roller coaster ride began in August, when he threw in his lot with the DR Congo national team, having earlier represented the country of his birth, France, at youth level. “I decided to turn a new page in my career and after being selected to play for the Congo DR, I accepted the invitation, hoping that I would play as soon as possible.”
After missing the first two games the Leopards played for administrative reasons, the attacking midfielder got his first break at the beginning of September, when he came off the bench in a friendly against the powerful club side TP Mazembe. He immediately made his presence felt, providing the assist for Cedric Mabwati in a 1-1 draw. A goal in his first full international in Abidjan against the Ivorians set the Leopards en route to a historic 4-3 victory.
But, unfortunately for the Leopards, they lost their next game against Cameroon 1-0 and went into their final group game needing a win and the result of Cameroon's game in Abidjan to go their way. Neeskens, who was injured during training after the defeat in Yaounde watched from the stands as his team-mates got the result they needed, but then heard the disappointing news that Côte d'Ivoire secured a point to remain ahead of the Congo DR. The disappointment was to last for several hours until Kebano and his team-mates received that dramatic phone call at the airport.
Following in some big footsteps
Named after one of the stars of Dutch football, Johan Neeskens, there has been some pressure on Kebano to produce something big. “My father is very passionate about football and he was a big fan of Johan Neeskens, so he decided to name me after him.”
He laughs, when asked whether he became a midfielder like the Dutch international, who played for Barcelona and Ajax Amsterdam and appeared in the 1974 and 1978 FIFA World Cup™ Finals – ending up on the losing side both times though. “No, in fact I started as a striker, so it is not because of my name that I ended up in midfield.”
The flamboyant midfielder, who loves rap music and video games, is known in Belgium for his different hair colours. "I like playing with my hair. There are some who do ridges, braids, dreadlocks, all kinds of cuts ... I prefer colourings. Today I am blonde. Tomorrow, I may be red. We'll see.”
He plays his club football for Charleroi in the Belgium first division, after learning his trade in the Paris Saint Germain youth teams. He says he does like to speculate on his future. “I just have to see what the future holds. I do not think I need to prove myself by going to a bigger league or a bigger club. Players have to prove themselves all the time – in training and in matches. For the time being I am happy playing here and I am gaining a lot of experience.”
It is this is experience that he is hoping will take him to Equatorial Guinea in January next year as a member of the Congo DR squad at the Africa Cup of Nations. “I have to work and redouble my efforts to be part of the selection of 23 players. I really hope to be part of the team. After Côte d'Ivoire got the point we thought we were out, but then when Nigeria drew, things changed again and we are very happy and proud that we made it. I think we can now produce something big in Equatorial Guinea,” Kebano said.