NONE of Wednesday’s players were born in the country. They are the lowest-ranked team to have ever played at the competition, yet co-hosts Equatorial Guinea were the first through to the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations.
An injury-time 2-1 winner over Senegal on Wednesday from Spanish fourth-division player Kily González sent the United Nations of players into the final eight, after Equatorial Guinea had won their opener 1-0 against Libya. It was quite an achievement for a country with a population of fewer than 700 000 and ranked a lowly 151st in the Fifa world rankings.
The Equatorial Guineans did not do it all by themselves, however.
They got help from a Brazilian goalkeeper, a Liberian defender, an Ivorian midfielder and a Cameroonian forward, as well as a host of Spanish players.
In fact, none of the 13 players that Brazilian-born coach Gilson Paulo used on Wednesday was born in the country.
Of the full 23-man squad, only third-choice goalkeeper Felipe Ovono and reserve defender Jose Bokung were born in Equatorial Guinea.
The National Lightning — as the team is called — embarked on their course to expand its selection base beyond the borders of the country in 2004 when Antonio Dumas took over as national team coach.
The Brazilian had previously introduced several of his countrymen into the Togolese national team when he was in charge there.
Frustrated by Equatorial Guinea’s poor performances in Africa Cup of Nations and World Cup qualifiers, Dumas was encouraged by Equatorial Guinean officials and politicians to look elsewhere for talent again.
He introduced several Brazilians to the side and this policy was later expanded to include other nationalities, setting a trend.
As a former Spanish colony, it was always likely that there were players of Equatorial Guinean descent playing in Spain, but this was then extended to include virtually anybody who was willing to gain citizenship.
Journeyman defender Lawrence Doe, who has been with more than a dozen clubs during his career, was hoping to be able to play international football for his native Liberia.
But when that did not materialise, he opted instead for Equatorial Guinea and he is honest why that is so.
“I am a Guinean, they take care of me, the government take care of me here,” he told journalists.
“I feel very happy and very proud because even though I was born Liberian I am now a Guinean. Equatorial Guinea is my home, I have my wife and son here now.”
He said that after winning their opening matches, confidence is now running high.
“We are not only playing for today, we’re playing for tomorrow,” he said.
The incentive for the players is, presumably, not only the lure of playing international football, but also money made available by the country’s football-crazy president Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has been accused of personally enriching himself through the country’s oil wealth.
Ahead of their opening match, players were promised a $1 million bonus by the president’s son Teodoro Nguema Obiang Mangue, who handed it over after the 1-0 victory against Libya — and another bonus was on its way after Wednesday’s heroics.