What a turnaround for the Central African country. Barely two months ago they were a disqualified country, eliminated from the qualification stages due to the fielding of an illegible player, Thiery Fidjeu. Following on from the Ebola crisis and Morocco’s withdrawal from hosting duties, it wasn’t until the 14th of November that Equatorial Guinea officially became the new host nation. As their qualification campaign was cut short after only two games, bizarrely, the hosts’ current side are probably the team we know the least about at the tournament.
The only major tournament the Thunder have appeared at was the AFCoN of 2012, again due to being a host nation, this time jointly with Gabon. Playing the opening game at the Estadio De Bata, as they will this time, they pleased the home crowds with an opening win over a weak Libyan team and followed up with a stunning 2-1 over heavy favourites Senegal, with an injury time winner from Kily Alvarez. A third and final group stage match was played against eventual winners Zambia, a 1-0 loss, unfortunately pairing them up against one of the tournament favourites Cote D’Ivoire. Here the gulf in class became very evident, with the Ivorians easing to a 3-0 win courtesy of a Didier Drogba brace and a trademark 25 yard free kick screamer from Yaya Toure.
With Argentine coach Esteban Becker, a recent appointment, there is not a great deal to go on regarding the teams’ playing style. A recent friendly encounter with Cape Verde in Portugal was a 1-1 draw, with Raul Fabiani scoring the Equatoguinean goal. The majority of the squad picked to play at AFCoN 2015 have limited international experience, the highest cap tally being 24, courtesy of Juvenal Edjogo-Owono who plies his trade for FC Santa Coloma in Andorra. Elsewhere the squad is made up of 7 Spanish based players, the majority of whom play in the second and third tiers. Emilio Nuse of Middlesboro is a fairly new addition to the squad, making his debut in 2013, but will captain the side at AFCoN 2015.
Unfortunately I do not see Equatorial Guinea repeating their Quarter-Final appearance from 3 years ago. With such a lack of international footballing experience amongst the squad and lack of qualifying games, I see this as a major disadvantage, even on home soil. I don’t see the National Thunder creating any storms beyond group play and predict an early exit. Congo, Gabon and Burkina Faso are all strong teams who will cause major problems for the inexperienced defenders, spearheaded by Rui and Sipo, whose domestic football being played in Malta and Cyprus respectively, I don’t feel will stand them in good enough stead to re-create the memorable run of AFCoN 2012.