Equatorial Guinea qualified for the first time for the Africa Cup in a knockout phase after beating Tanzania thanks to a goal from Emilio Nsue, former player of Mallorca and Real Sociedad among others who is now without a team. Juan Michá, the coach of the national team who had already entered the Africa Cup as host in 2012 (he reached the quarterfinals) and in 2015 (he finished fourth), always looks to the Iberian Peninsula. For this edition, which takes place in Cameroon from January 9 to February 16, it has summoned 16 Spanish players, with dual nationality, although only Carlos Akapo (Cádiz) plays in the First Division. “I may be in the elite, but there I am one more because we are all equally important. We are a family, that’s the word ”, agrees the defender.
“The relationship with Guinea, which was a Spanish colony for a long time, is obvious and many of us have parents from there,” explains Hercules player Rubén Bellima. “It is something that we have normalized. There are no distinctions between us because we all feel deeply rooted in the land, “adds defender Saúl Coco, from the Las Palmas affiliate. “Yes we are Spanish, but we have descendants and we feel Guinean too. One thing does not take away the other ”, explains Iban Salvador, Fuenlabrada forward. “I lived there and it has never been taken into account where we come from because we all believe in the feeling and love we have for the country,” adds Jesús Owono, Alavés B. goalkeeper.
In Guinea, and as usual, everyone will pray before each training session to be grateful for the opportunity to be there and defend their country. At the same time, the music will blare in the locker room. “You always listen to African songs, it is something that has been established and that we like,” says Bellima. And if the thing is to laugh, Pablo Machín (Monza) and Pablo Ganet (Real Murcia) put the joke.
They will also have to get serious because they have to establish the premiums for the African Cup – “we will do that there together,” says Akapo, one of the captains – although now the environment with the federation is not the best. “We decided as a group to create a statement and all sign it to pass it on to the management. Not to demand but to ask that they take care of us and be as professional as possible. Sometimes we make endless trips with stopovers or we get stranded in airports, ”Salvador laments. “It’s just that they have a little more respect for us,” says Owono. “We demand that they do not make us think about anything other than playing soccer,” adds Coco.
It will not be easy, in any case, for Nzalang, as the Guinean team is known, to pass the group stage because they have played Algeria (current champions), Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone. “It is a complicated group, but many of us prefer it because we will face ourselves against elite soccer players,” says Coco. “I guess we will fight Ivory Coast for second place because Algeria is very strong. But we will go to win all the games ”, Salvador is positioned. “It is that we have been going to any country for years and we stand up. We are not going to settle for very good footballers in front of us ”, Bellima added. “We have had the worst group, but imagine that Mahrez stopped them all, he is going to say that where does this goalkeeper of the Alavés subsidiary come from,” says Owono, who aspires to pass the round to measure himself with Cameroon and meet the goal Onana (Ajax). “We know we have nothing to lose. I think we are going to give a scare than another and do something great, “predicts Akapo.
What they will not give up is their style. “Our identity is to have the ball. We want to play it, partner with it, and not be as gross as it can be in some parts of Africa. This way of playing has brought us here ”, defends Salvador. “It can be said that we have a very Spanish style, of touch, of possession. At least when the fields are good because there sometimes they don’t help… ”, Akapo slides. “Many of us have grown up in the lower categories of Spain, so we like to have the ball at our feet and we feel comfortable being protagonists unlike many teams in Africa that are characterized by their individual or physical football”, adds Bellima . “They even use me quite a bit to create superiorities from behind. Although I also have good displacement and sometimes we look for the surprise ”, reveals Owono.
On the 12th they debut against Ivory Coast. Before going out onto the lawn, as usual, they will shout: “One, two, three, Nzalang!” It is the passion and football of Equatorial Guinea, also of Spain.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.