Equatorial Guinea Earn Their AFCON Stripes

Equatorial Guinea may still be seen as outsiders/minnows on the African football scene, but 4 appearances at the last 7 editions of the Africa Cup of Nations, twice as hosts, suggests otherwise and their performances in the recently concluded 2023 edition, where they trounced hosts and eventual Champions Ivory Coast, has further solidified their status as more than just AFCON also-rans.


For a nation that played its first official match in 1975, Equatorial Guinea have made giant strides in recent times, despite several controversies surrounding player selection, one of which saw them expelled from AFCON qualifying in 2015, after fielding an ineligible player who had no ties to the Central African nation. Their very first foray into Africa’s footballing showpiece event was as co-hosts alongside neighbors Gabon in 2012.   


The general consensus at the time was that despite being co-hosts, the oil-rich former Spanish colony would bow out unceremoniously in the group phase due to their lack of AFCON experience. But the Nzalang Nacional (National Thunder) as they’re fondly called, had other ideas.


Equatorial Guinea pipped a decent Libya side 1-0 in the tournament opener thanks to a late Javier Balboa strike, but the real tournament shock would follow in the second round of games. Senegal, yet to lift the AFCON title at the time but still considered dark horses in 2012, would be defeated by the Ecuatoguineans 2-1 in front of a raucous crowd in Estadio de Bata. To put the enormity of this triumph into context, Senegal were ranked 44th in the FIFA world rankings before AFCON 2012 kicked off. Equatorial Guinea on the other hand, were a lowly 150th; a giant-killing in its truest form. 


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The Nzalang Nacional would bow out respectably in the quarter finals to eventual finalists Ivory Coast (deja vu anyone?) 3-0 but this would be the start of their indoctrination as regulars at AFCON. The 2015 edition, again hosted by Equatorial Guinea thus time as the sole host nation, would see them go one better this time around, getting to the semi-finals and eventually finishing the tournament in 4th place.


They would miss the 2017 and 2019 editions but another fine showing in 2021 would see them claim the scalp of 2019 champions Algeria on the way to a quarterfinal finish. Their 2023 showing and the goalscoring exploits of captain Emilio Nsue, who won the tournament’s Golden Boot, speaks to a footballing nation on the rise. Their current FIFA World ranking of 94th is a marked improvement from their ranking before their very first AFCON adventure and suggests that the only way now is up.


A spot in the newly expanded FIFA World Cup in 2026 will be their next target and with their positive start in the qualifying rounds, it would be unwise to bet against the Nzalang Nacional writing another remarkable chapter in their footballing history.


By: Edward Okaro / @KingArinze

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Visionhaus / Getty Images