Equatorial Guinea: But by the grace of God
Unlike the other teams heading into the Cup of Nations, and unlike the vast, vast majority of all sides to have stepped into any tournament ever, Equatorial Guinea are a mysterious and unknown property.
The manner of their qualification for the Afcon (as late host-replacements for Morocco) hardly has extensive historical precedent, while their change of manager (Andoni Goikoetxea was replaced by Esteben Becker) adds another layer of ambiguity.
The team at Afrik.com described “a fog engulfing the squad” and this isn’t too far from the mark.
Also, the Nzalang Nacional have played their pre-tournament friendlies behind closed doors and didn’t maintain a particularly concentrated, consistent selection policy before being confirmed as Cup of Nations hosts.
Similarly, the nation has form for late (and extensive) naturalisations of players with limited connection to the country. It’s important to note, however, that while the Nzalang Nacional’s current squad have been plucked from across the globe, Becker has ignored various high-profile ‘foreigners’.
Picking through personnel is complicated enough, without even delving into formation, set-up and tactical approach.
In their seven last matches before being named Cup of Nations hosts, Equatorial Guinea gave playing time to no fewer than 33 players, but, intriguingly, 12 of the squad of 23 did not feature in the team’s last seven matches. Ahead of the recent friendly against Cape Verde, there were nine uncapped players and a further nine with ten or fewer caps.
I am going to—as the prophet Habbakuk advised—tread on solid ground wherever possible, and therefore will not pretend to give chapter and verse on Equatorial Guinea and Becker’s approach. Rather, I wish outline a few key figures who are likely to be influential.
In goal, I expect Felipe Ovono of Deportivo Mongomo to start. Firstly, he is the only one of the three keepers to have actually made a competitive international appearance, and also started the team’s ill-fated second-leg qualifying victory over Mauritania.
Aitor Embela, of Malaga, made his debut in goal against Cape Verde, and will compete with Ovono for the Number One shirt.
At right-back, Dani Evuy should start, despite being without a club, with Malta-based Rui and one of Igor Engonga (CD Tropezon) or Diosdado Mbele (Vegetarian Lions) alongside him.
At left-back, Sipo Bohale is a relatively experienced international and plays at AEK Larnaca, a higher level than most of his teammates. He is a veteran of the 2012 Cup of Nations team.
Miguel Angel Maye Ngomo provides competition for this position.
In the centre of the midfield, Juvenal possesses the kind of quality that few of his teammates can match. He has a sure touch and a fine eye for the pass, but at 35, his best days are far behind him. He will, however, be a key figure and will look to recycle the ball and alleviate the pressure on his teammates.
It will be hard to see him competing effectively against Group A opposition such as Charles Kabore, Andre Poko or Prince Oniangue.
I expect Ivan Zarandona (another veteran, playing his football in Hong Kong) or, more likely, Viera Ellong to support Juvenal.
Further forward, the Nzalang Nacional can boast of players with greater pedigree.
Real Madrid youth player Ruben Belima and Iraklis Psachna man Randy will likely compete for a spot on the left, with Emilio Nsue of Middlesbrough and an ex-Real Madrid starlet Javier Balboa vying for a role on the right flank.
Either of the last two men can do a job centrally, with Balboa typically as an attacking midfielder behind the strikers and Nsue up top.
Kike, Iban and Pablo Ganet are all attackers who made their debuts against Cape Verde, while Ivan Bolado Palacios is a former Spain U-21 international who plies his trade in India.
By Ed Dove