The Democratic Republic of the Congo had its first international success at the 1968 African Cup of Nations held in Ethiopia, beating Ghana 1–0 in the final. The team's biggest ever win came on 22 November 1969 when they recorded a 10–1 home victory against Zambia. From 1971 to 1997 the country, and therefore the team, was known as Zaire. Their first game as Zaire was played in Cameroon against Sudan. Sudan won this game 3–0. Six years later Zaire won the 1974 African Cup of Nations in Egypt. The team recorded a 2–1 victory against Guinea, another 2–1 victory against rivals Congo and a 4–1 victory against Mauritius. These results carried Zaire through to the semi-finals where they beat hosts Egypt 3–2. In the final, Zaire drew with Zambia 2–2. Therefore the match was replayed two days later, where Zaire won the game 2–0. Zaire player Mulamba Ndaye was top scorer with nine goals, wehich remains a record for the tournament. After this, the team returned to Zaire on the Presidential plane, lent to them by Mobutu Sese Seko.
Zaire were the first Sub-Saharan African team to participate in a FIFA World Cup. At the 1974 FIFA World Cup Zaire did not manage to score any goals and lost all of its games. Their 9–0 defeat against Yugoslavia still remains a World Cup record. Facing a free-kick 25 yards out during the 1974 World Cup finals match against Brazil, defender Mwepu Ilunga, upon hearing the referee blow his whistle, ran out of the Zaire wall and kicked the ball upfield, for which he received a yellow card. This was voted the 17th greatest World Cup moment in a Channel 4 poll, though many commentators held it to be an example of African football's "naïvety and indiscipline". However, Ilunga has claimed that he was quite aware of the rules 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 earnings.
From 1992 to 1996, Zaire, reached three consecutive African Cup of Nations quarter-finals. In 1992 and 1994 they were beaten by Nigeria, and in 1996 they were beaten by Ghana. In 1997, their name changed to DR Congo. DR Congo played their first game on the 8 June 1997 in Brazzaville which ended in a 1–0 victory for them. At the 1998 African Cup of Nations, DR Congo, led by Louis Watunda Iyolo took third place, beating hosts Burkina Faso 4–1 on penalties.