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The 2012 Africa Cup of Nations co-hosts Equatorial Guinea gave a great performance on their tournament debut, qualifying for the quarterfinals before going down 3-0 at the hands of eventual runners-up Cote d’Ivoire.
Nzalang Nacional’s tournament started with two dramatic wins over Libya and Senegal secured by late, late goals.
They then succumbed 1-0 to Zambia in their final Group A match, a crucial mistake that probably cost them a chance of reaching the semifinals, as they then had to battle Cote d’Ivoire in the last eight, rather than Sudan as Chipolopolo did.
Gilson Paulo’s side were outclassed by the Elephants in Malabo, as two goals from Didier Drogba and a Yaya Toure free kick ended the co-hosts' dreams.
The Brazilian coach earned himself a longer contract at the helm of the national team, and with the likes of Javier Balboa, Randy Iyanga and Kily to call upon, Equatorial Guinea could become a force to be reckoned with. Their first target is the 2013 AFCON and 2014 World Cup qualifiers.
Equatorial Guinea will be appearing in their first Africa Cup of Nations finals by virtue of their status as co-hosts of the 2012 tournament with Gabon.
The country’s build-up to the finals has been less than ideal though, with veteran French coach Henri Michel resigning just three months before the start, only to return to his post a week later after being persuaded to continue.
But results have not been too bad under Michel, and they took heart from a 1-1 draw against an admittedly under-strength Cameroon side in October 2011.
The coach brings with him a wealth of World Cup experience and knowledge of finals tournaments, but also a fiery temperament that has led to constant battles with the sports authorities in Equatorial Guinea over preparations for the 2012 finals.
Many of the country’s players are based in the lower leagues in Spain and Brazil as the country hands out passports to virtually any footballers who will represent them.
Their most exciting prospect was actually born in Equatorial Guinea though. The 18-year-old forward Juanjo Muko Nsue is with the Atletico Madrid juniors and is tipped to be a future star.
Spanish-born winger Javier Balboa is another player to watch, he currently plays for Portuguese side Beira-Mar.
Otherwise the players are mostly home-based, with a sprinkling in the Middle East and France.
Getting out of their pool will be the first target for the side, but even with homeground advantage that looks a tall order for a side made up of players who battle to identify with the Equatorial Guinea flag, even though they gladly wear the national colours.
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