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Small state Equatorial Guinea hope fantasy side can bring success

Equatorial Guinea have come back from the dead, in terms of Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualification, by replacing original hosts and participants Morocco, who were stripped of the rights following the Ebola virus epidemic.

The National Thunder, as the Central Africans are nicknamed, were themselves kicked out of the competition after fielding an ineligible player, Middlesbrough’s Emilio Nsue Lopez, against Cape Verde in two games in 2013.

However, oil-rich country Equatorial Guinea (population of just over 600k) have been reinstated, and will host the Africa Cup of Nations, from January 17th – February 8th, just three years after last enjoying similar duties.

They managed to reach as far as the quarter-finals in 2012, the only time they have taken part in the usually biannual tournament, seeing off Libya and Senegal, before being downed by continental giants Ivory Coast.

Not only have Equatorial Guinea been given a lucky reprieve to Africa’s biggest international competition in the upcoming months, but they have been placed in arguably the easier of the four groups.

They will have to face Congo, Burkina Faso and Gabon, in that order, in Group A of the tournament, compared to Group C, for instance, that has Ghana, Algeria, South Africa and Senegal.

Former Spain international centre back Andoni Goikoetxea, Equatorial Guinea head coach since 2013, therefore, has a great chance of repeating or even bettering the sides’ feat in 2012.

The Athletic Bilbao legend will literally have any player from any nation, to an extent, available to him, as the country’s policy in recent years has been to recruit talent from abroad, who have little to no natural links to Equatorial Guinea.

Colombia, Brazil, Spain, Ivory Coast and Cameroon are the main source form which footballers are poached, with reports suggesting they are given citizenship and a match fee for representing the National Thunder.

In one of those AFCON qualification games, nine Brazilian players were included, and remarkably none were involved in the investigation for ineligibility.

From a recent squad in June against Mauritania, no less than 11 members were born outside of the country.

There are a few talented players to look out for, though, besides Mallorca-born Nsue, with Real Madrid youth graduates Javier Balboa (now at Portugal top-flight club Estoril) and Ruben Belima (both wingers that originated from Spain as well).

Others who currently ply their trade in Europe for lesser sides include Randy (Iraklis Psachna), captain Juvenal (Santa Coloma), Rui Da Gracia (Hibernian), Kily Alvarez (Cudillero), Thierry Fidjeu (Saint-Colomban Locmine), Diosdado Mbele (Royal Antwerp) and Sipo (AEK Larnaca).

But who knows which other players Equatorial Guinea can recruit before the squad announcements?