They say that lightning doesn’t strike twice but both Equatorial Guinea and Gabon scored late goals in their matches to make the last eight of the African Cup of Nations.. Then again many experts said that Equatorial Guinea and Gabon shouldn’t be hosting the African Cup of Nations as neither country has any real football pedigree..
Gabon somehow managed to leave it later than the Equatoguineans 93rd minute winner by scoring theirs against Morocco in the 97th minute. Their last match in the group against Tunisia will simply decide which side wins the group and avoids Ghana (likely winners of Group D).
On Wednesday evening the Nzalang Nacional (National Lightening) Equatorial Guinea faced off against one of the favourites to win the AFCON Senegal. Despite their opening day win against Libya very few people gave the Equatoguineans any sort of hope against Senegal. After all, the Senegalese side featured players who plied their trade in the Premier League for Newcastle United and in Ligue 1 for sides like Lille, Montpellier and Bordeaux. Conversely the hosts had called up a rag-tag bunch of naturalised pros from the lower league in Spain and had even snaffled a Brazilian keeper to play between the sticks.
The game started as you’d expect, with the Senegalese dominating processions. Despite their undoubted array of talent in front of goal the Teranga Lions couldn’t make the breakthrough and it was Equatorial Guinea’s Randy who headed into an unguarded net to give the hosts the lead with half an hour to go. Senegal’s game plan didn’t change and they continued to push bodies forward, scoring a fully deserved equaliser with seconds remaining.
After conceding the leveller Nzalang Nacional began to tire and it appeared that the momentum was with Senegal and it would be them who would go on to win the match. Then, three minutes into injury time Javier Balboa picked up the ball on the left side of attack. Rather than attempting to run down the clock to earn his side a creditable draw he played the ball square to full-back Kily who had sprinted the length of the pitch to join the attack. It was a remarkable achievement for him to show the stamina on a heavy pitch to get into that area of the pitch that late in the game, and an even more remarkable achievement to fire a shot at the Senegalese goal. But what was most remarkable was that Kily’s shot from twenty-five yards out, hit with the outside of his right foot, swerved past a helpless Bouna Coundol into the top corner of the Senegalese net.
It’s hard to fully put into context what a shock this result was. Perhaps a European comparison would be Malta or Luxembourg knocking Italy or Holland out of a European Championships. Equatorial Guinea’s first international match was in the mid 70s and it wasn’t until the mid 80s that they played their first competitive match. Despite being able to host an international tournament things haven’t gone smoothly off the pitch, their coach Gilson only took charge two weeks before the tournament and their top scorer and captain Bodipo limped out of the first match. But all these problems are now forgotten. Kily, a player who plays in the fourth tier in Spain, has become a national hero and most will forgive his wild celebrations that unsurprisingly saw him receive a yellow card.
The African Cup of Nations has been an absolute delight to watch and has put the 2010 World Cup to shame so far. Let’s hope it continues.