Host country Equatorial Guinea has advanced to the last eight of the Africa Cup of Nations soccer tournament.
Traditionally one of Africa’s lowest ranked countries, the Central African country shut out neighbouring Gabon 2-0 to end second in its group and secure a place in Saturday’s quarterfinal.
Coach Esteban Becker was ecstatic after the win following a 1-1 draw with Congo and a goalless tie with Burkina Faso in earlier matches.
“It’s magnificent,” he said. “It’s a Cinderella story of the poor team beating the rich team on merit, thanks to their sacrifice, their commitment, their pride and their passion.”
Originally eliminated from qualifying for the finals after fielding an ineligible player, Equatorial Guinea was reinstated last November when Morocco declined to host the tournament following the Ebola crisis.
Becker said the team was put together less than a month ago.
“The squad came together when we went to Lisbon to put in place a style of play with optimism,” he said.
Of the 23 players, 14 were born in Spain and five members made their debut in a warm-up friendly against Cape Verde in Lisbon.
This is just the second time that Equatorial Guinea has made it to the quarterfinals. The first occasion was three years ago when they lost 3-0 to Ivory Coast, which fell to Zambia in the final.
Congo, meanwhile, has reached the quarterfinals for the first time in 23 years after finishing at the top of its group with a 2-1 victory over Burkina Faso last Sunday.
“It’s incredible and I feel a lot of emotion and incredible happiness,” said coach Claude LeRoy after the match. “We have come from nowhere. We knocked out Nigeria, the reigning champions and now we have beaten Burkina Faso who was runners-up the last time. Anything that happens from now on is a bonus.”
Three-time Cup winners Nigeria failed to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations competition after finishing third in its group behind South Africa and Congo and a point behind the Democratic People’s Republic of Congo, which advanced to the finals as the best third-place team.
And in other news, Toronto FC players will leave on Sunday for Florida to continue their pre-season training. The team will spend a week there before returning on February 8 to train in the city before heading back to Orlando in February for pre-season matches against Oklahoma City Energy on February 18, Danish first division club HB Koge three days later, New York Red Bulls on February 25 and a game against an opponent to be named on February 28.