Former France youth international Giannelli Imbula says he is thankful after being included in DR Congo’s 32-man provisional squad for next month’s Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt.
The 26-year-old midfielder, who spent the season on loan at Spanish club Rayo Vallencano from parent club Stoke City, was born in Belgium and raised in France.
He is eligible to play for the Leopards through his parents who were born in DR Congo.
Imbula had previously rejected several opportunities to switch his allegiance from France.
“My file is quickly validated to defend the colours of the nation of my biological parents who are from the DR Congo. Thank you coach Florent Ibenge and also to the staffs of Leopards,” Imbula posted on his Facebook page.
Imbula featured 22 times as Rayo Vallecano finished bottom of La Liga but has played only two league games in the last three months.
TP Mazembe’s Jackson Muleka, top scorer in this season’s Congolese top tier, has also been handed his first call up by coach Ibenge.
Romania-based goalkeeper Perfect Mandanda, brother of France international keeper Steve Mandanda, returns to the squad after long absence.
Yannick Bolasie, Cederic Bakambu and Tresor Mputu are among the key players included.
But veteran striker Dieumerci Mbokani is among the big names missing, along with winger Gael Kakuta.
DR Congo are in Group A alongside hosts Egypt, Uganda and Zimbabwe, and will be based in Cairo.
The Leopards face Uganda in their opening match on June 22 before taking on Egypt four days later.
Their last group game is against Zimbabwe on June 30.
Goalkeepers: Auguy Kalambayi (Sanga Balende,) Parfait Mandanda (Dinamo Bucharest, Romania), Anthony Mossi (Chiasso FC, Switzerland), Ley Matampi Vumi (Al Ansar Club Medina, Saudi Arabia).
Defenders: Padou Bompunga, Djuma Shabani and Glody Ngonda Muzinga (all three AS Vita Club), Issama Mpeko (TP Mazembe), Christian Luyindama Nekadio (Galatasaray, Turkey), Arthur Masuaku (West Ham, England), Wilfred Moke Abro (MKA Ankaragucu, Turkey), Fabrice N’sakala (Alanyaspor, Turkey), Marcel Tisserand (Wolfsburg, Germany), Merveille Bope Bokadi (Standard Liege, Belgium), Beaudrick Ungenda (Primeiro Do Agosto, Angola).
Midfielders: Chadrac Akolo (Stuttgart, Germany), Paul-Jose Mpoku (Standard Liege, Belgium), Giannelli Imbula (Rayo Vallencano, Spain), Chancel Mbemba Mangulu (Porto, Portugal), Tresor Mputu (TP Mazembe), Youssouf Mulumbu and Aaron Tshibola (both Kilmanarnock, Scotland), Nelson Omba Munganga (AS Vita Club), Fabrice Luamba Ngoma (Raja Casablanca, Morocco), Jacques Maghoma (Birmingham city, England).
Forwards: Britt Assombalonga (Middlesbrough, England), Cederic Bakambu (Beijing Guoan, China), Yannick Bolasie (Everton, England), Jonathan Bolingi Mpangi (Antwerp, Belgium), Elia Lina Meschack and Jackson Muleka (both TP Mazembe), Kabongo Kasongo (Wahda Club, Saudi Arabia).