Afcon: Equatorial Guinea truimphs against the odds
“It’s a Cinderella story; the poor team beating the rich team on merit, thanks to their sacrifice, their commitment, their pride and their passion,” said newly-appointed Equatorial Guinea coach Esteban Becker, whose side progressed from Group A as runners-up behind Congo Brazzaville with a win and two draws.
Congo are leading Group A with seven points from an unbeaten three-match run and are joined in the last eight by Equatorial Guinea, 2-0 winners over Gabon in Bata.
It is a remarkable story given that Becker himself was only appointed as coach at the beginning of this month.
“This squad only came together 20 days ago in Madrid, then we went to Lisbon and put in place a style of play with optimism.” he said.
“We were convinced in every training session that we could go far. To be in the top eight in Africa is an honour for such a small nation.”
Former Real Madrid player Javier Balboa, whose penalty opened the scoring against the Gabonese, rejected opposition claims that he dived to win the spot-kick.
“I’m delighted for my country, my team and for myself. Today is a great day for the whole of Equatorial Guinea,” he said.
“The penalty was the right decision.
I did not dive. Yes it changed the game, but we scored two goals.”
French coach Claude le Roy enhanced a remarkable record as Congo Brazzaville defeated Burkina Faso 2-1 on Sunday to reach the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals.
It was the seventh time in eight attempts with five different countries that the 66-year-old has reached the knockout stage of the African football showcase.
Thievy Bifouma scored in 51 minutes, Aristide Bance levelled four minutes from time and Fabrice Ondama snatched the 88th-minute winner.
Congo made two changes to the team that upset Gabon in midweek to give the Red Devils a first Cup of Nations victory since defeating neighbours Democratic Republic of Congo 41 years ago.
The suspension of Boris Moubhio necessitated a defensive reshuffle with Francis Nganga coming into the middle while midfielder Franci Litsingi was preferred to Cesair Gandze.
Burkina Faso also made two changes and, not surprisingly, both were in attack as the Stallions had failed to score in two previous group games.
Teenager Bertrand Traore and Bance were axed with Prejuce Nakoulma and Abdou Razack Traore offered chances to end a goal drought that followed seven goals in two warm-up games.
With so much at stake at the 5 000-seat Estadio de Ebebiyin on a hot night, the opening 45 minutes produced few scoring chances and ended goal-less.
The best chance fell to Bifouma midway through the half when a Delvin Ndinga pass sent him clear, but he fired across goal and wide of the far post.
A disappointing tournament for Burkinabe talisman Jonathan Pitroipa - voted best player of the 2013 Cup of Nations - continued as he was repeatedly caught offside.
But the United Arab Emirates-based winger did feature as Burkina Faso twice caused discomfort to the Congo defence.
Pitroipa offered pacey Nakoulma a chance with a ball over the defence, but goalkeeper Christoffer Mafoumbi darted off his line to collect.
Almost immediately a loose ball inside the goalmouth fell to Pitroipa, but his hurried shot flew over.
After Fode Dore and Pitroipa went close to scoring early in the second half at opposite ends, Bifouma broke the deadlock.
There was a hint of offside as Congo attacked down the right before Bifouma poked a Dore cross past goalkeeper Germain Sanou from inside the six-yard box.
Desperate Burkina Faso reacted just before the hour by sending on Bertrand Traore and Bance for the ineffective Nakoulma and defender Issa Gouo.
As the game entered the final 15 minutes, Stallions coach Paul Put played his final card, introducing Issiaka Ouedraogo for Abdou Razack Traore.
Bance equalised off a Ouedraogo cross only for Ondama to pounce on a Sanou error following a free-kick and nudge the ball into the net, securing the win and top spot in the group.– AFP