Thursday Feb 05, 2015. 08:30
Hosts Equatorial Guinea will again be looking up to Javier Balboa to fire them past Ghana today to an historic Africa Cup final.
The 29-year-old Estoril winger has been the inspiration for this small central African country, who are now only a match away from the final of the continent’s football showpiece.
He has scored three goals including the two that catapulted them beyond highly-fancied Tunisia to the semi-final against Ghana.
On Saturday, Balboa kept his nerves to tuck away a stoppage time penalty that took the quarterfinal into extra-time and in the first half of extra-time he conjured a magical free kick goal which proved the match winner for Nzalang Nacional.
“Balboa is one of our experienced players and he is our only player who plays in the top division in Europe,” remarked Equatorial Guinea coach Esteban Becker.
“He has always shown his class and experience in this young team.”
Balboa held a lot of promise when he started out as he was on the books of mighty Real Madrid having come through the youth ranks. He even played a handful of games for the main team between 2006 and 2008. He was later sent on loan to Racing Santander by Fabio Capello.
He then returned to Madrid when Bernd Schuster replaced Capello as coach and shortly afterwards he moved to Benfica, where he was for three years before he cancelled his contract to join S.C Beira-Mar in Portugal.
Two years ago, he joined Estorial in the Portuguese top flight, where it appears he is now much more settled.
At the start of Equatorial Guinea 2015, Balboa insisted the pressure will be on the other teams and that it would not be a disaster were they to even crash out by the group phase especially after they had only a month to prepare.
“I will fight in all the games, give everything for my team,” he promised.
“We have confidence and there is no pressure on us, rather the pressure is on the other big teams.”
In 2012, Balboa was also a national hero when he grabbed the match winner against Libya, which will eventually qualify Equatorial Guinea to the last-eight of the tournament they co-hosted with neighbours Gabon.
Balboa’s father, Ricardo, has accompanied his only child to this competition, as he did in 2012, and he said he is already very proud of what his son has achieved.
“I was here in 2012 as well, but this is even better as we are now in the semi-finals,” said a proud Balboa senior, who is based in Madrid, Spain.
“It has been a crazy few days for all of us – our chiquito has brought so much joy to our country. It is a big, big dream.”