AFCON hosts Cinderella story

2015-01-27 10:13
AFCON 2015
AFCON 2015

Ebibeyin - Hosts Equatorial Guinea have reached the African Nations Cup quarter-finals on a wave of popular support having thrown away most of the game's conventional wisdoms in their patchy preparations.

A motley collection of players, mainly from the lower leagues in Spain, galvanised by two former teenage talents now at a crossroads in their club careers and an Argentine-born manager who had been coaching women's football, have upset the odds to book a place in the last eight, spurred on by their passionate fans in one of Africa's smallest countries.

Sunday's 2-0 win over Gabon, which came through second-half goals from a Javier Balboa penalty and Iban after their more fancied opponents missed several chances, ensured an unbeaten run, a total of five points and second place in Group A.

Five months ago, Equatorial Guinea had been kicked out of the Nations Cup preliminaries for using an ineligible player as the Confederation of African Football finally took action against a country who have blatantly flouted rules on player eligibility and previously reinforced their national team with Brazilians, Colombians and other nationalities over the years.

This approach was quietly dispensed with two months ago when Equatorial Guinea were suddenly elevated into the finals after agreeing to host the tournament in place of Morocco, who wanted it postponed because of fears over the Ebola virus.

The team had just two months to prepare, going on a training camp to Portugal after identifying a new batch of recruits with Equatorial Guinea family connections in the former colonial power Spain.

But to muddy the waters, an election at the country's football federation saw a change in leadership that prompted the firing of coach Andoni Goikoetxea, the former Spanish international defender known as the 'Butcher of Bilbao' in his playing days.

With two weeks to kick off, Esteban Becker took over as manager, moving across from his job as coach of the Equatorial Guinea women's team.

The unheralded Argentine, who previously had jobs as a physical trainer at lower league Spanish clubs, is now the toast of the country after leading the side into the knockout stage.

"It's a magnificent Cinderella story, the poor team beating the rich team on merit, thanks to their sacrifice, their commitment, their pride and their passion," Becker trumpeted after Sunday's success.

Heroes for the Equatorial Guineans have been Javier Balboa and Emilio Nsue, two players who had been young prodigies but whose careers have not lived up to expectation.

Nsue is a former Spanish under-23 international who switched allegiance to the country of his father after being left out the Spanish squad for the London Olympics. He moved to English second-tier club Middlesbrough last season on a free transfer.

Balboa was on the books of Real Madrid as a junior and made seven first team appearances as a substitute but has faded somewhat since and now plays for Estoril in Portugal.

Equatorial Guinea now have six days to soak up their achievement and prepare for their next test in Saturday's quarter-final against the winners of Group B.

"We are proud of our achievements but we want to do more," said Nsue.

Read more on:    equitorial guinea  |  afcon 2015  |  soccer


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