Africa Cup of Nations hosts Equatorial Guinea erupted into wild celebrations on Sunday after they qualified for the last-eight with their latest heroes all having their roots in the country.
Nzalang Nacional recorded five points after a 2-0 win over next-door neighbours Gabon to finish second in Group A behind Congo, who tallied seven points.
Three years ago, the cup hosts also reached the quarterfinals, but then that qualification was delivered by a team packed with players from Brazil and Colombia.
Both fans and players alike now talk with a lot more pride that the current Nzalang Nacional is made up 100% of players, who have their roots in Equatorial Guinea.
“Our power now is that we are a united team. In 2012, we had so many problems, so many players who were not from our country and the fans were not happy about this and did not take as much pride as they now do about the national team,” said Juvenal Edjogo-Owono.
“Yes, we were together for about 20 days to prepare for this competition. But we had a dream. We knew we have to fight and the coach also told us that we have to fight not just for 90 minutes but for even more. That’s what’s important in football.”
He added: “We had to run more, we had to fight more. We gave everything we got against Gabon and deserved our victory. And now we are in the quarterfinal of the Nations Cup.”
Coach Esteban Becker said he took the decision to do away with players with no links to the country.
“All the 23 players on my squad have links with Equatorial Guinea, whether their father or mother or grandfather was born in this country,” said a proud Becker, who guided the country’s women’s team to win the 2012 African Women’s Championship on home soil.
“This is very, very important.”
Becker has maintained he hopes to continue to work with this team, whose future he said is very bright.
“This is the beginning of a new process, a team for the future. The focus remains this tournament and after that I would love to continue to work with this young team,” he said.
Besides the experienced campaigners like the 36-year-old Juvenal and Javier Balboa, who is 29, Nzalang Nacional boast of some exciting young players like 21-year-old goalkeeper Felipe Ovono, Enrique Boula Senobua, who is also 21 and features for Real Mallorca in Spain, and the 19-year-old forward Ivan Edu Salvador.
“The future of football in Equatorial Guinea is guaranteed because of these young players,” assured Juvenal.
But back to the present, an historic place in the semi-finals now beckons for this team dubbed ‘amazing ants’ by the Argentine coach.
On Saturday, they will come up against the winners of Group B, which could well be Tunisia or Cape Verde.
One of Sunday night’s heroes Balboa said they will be prepared.
“We only think of the next match and we are confident we will give our best no matter who will face in that match,” said Balboa, whose penalty goal in the 54th minute set Equatorial Guinea on the road to a famous victory in Bata on Sunday.