Lightning bolt that shocked African soccer

2012-01-28 16:04

Co-hosts Equatorial Guinea first team to march to Afcon last 8

Going into the CAF Africa Cup of Nations, Equatorial Guinea were the lowest-ranked side in the Fifa world rankings at 151.

However, the National Lightning shocked heavily fancied Senegal this week to become the first nation to reach the knockout stage.

Their 2-1 win over the now-eliminated Lions of Teranga in Bata in Group A was even more against the form book than their first win last weekend, when they narrowly beat Libya with a late goal in the opening game of the 16-team tournament.

But now the co-hosts have set their sights on top place in their pool.

To the delight of the nation’s 700 000 inhabitants, the national team have a two-point lead over second-placed Zambia and need only draw against the Copper Bullets to remain in Bata for next weekend’s first quarterfinal.

Not only is Equatorial Guinea a small country with little in the way of footballing pedigree, but their run-up to the finals was not as smooth as it might have been after coach Henri Michel quit just a month ago.

With just two weeks before the event, in stepped unheralded Brazilian boss Gilson Paulo, who was a youth coach at Vasco da Gama previously.

Despite having less than a week to decide on a final roster, Paulo has managed to instil self-belief in his charges, and insists that more can be done.

“Our sights are now set on finishing top of the group,” Paulo said.

“We have done unbelievably well to win our first two games, but for me the job is not yet finished. To win a third one is very important too. We have more ambition.”

Six points from Equatorial Guinea’s two matches has condemned Senegal to an early exit from the tournament, and Libya need a minor miracle to get through.

A draw will also be good enough for Zambia, who play Equatorial Guinea in the last group game in Malabo today at the same time that Libya and Senegal will meet in Bata.

The image of a team of players largely from the lower leagues in Spain battling for a deserved win against the much-vaunted Senegalese, who had two of the best strikers in Europe last season, was a rarity in a major competition where shocks of this magnitude are few and far between.

The success on the pitch has also given a massive energy injection to a nation not used to seeing its national team winning.


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