Guinea’s wonderful Afcon script only gets better

Soccer News of Saturday, 31 January 2015


Guinea Teammmm

If there is anything like luck – and I doubt if there is – the Guinean national football team might be riding it quite a lot recently.

And that ride, with each gallop, appears to take them ever closer to pulling off a grand upset at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations.

From Guinea to Guinea

Guinea’s qualification to the ongoing Afcon tournament was anything but a straightforward process. As one of Caf’s 21 highest ranking countries, the Syli Nationale were granted automatic passage to Afcon 2015’s final qualifying phase. What awaited them there (namely, a tight group), however, offered little assurance of actually making it to the finals itself.

Worse yet, Ebola had struck Africa, with Guinea among the worst hit on the continent. One sporting consequence was that the national side was unable to play its home qualifying games on Guinean territory. Casablanca, Morocco, was settled on as the preferred alternative and, to the credit of Michel Dussuyer’s charges, they lost none of the three games played there.

Still, there was adversity to contend with on the road, with some of the other countries in the group meting out outright hostility to the Guinean entourage. Dussuyer was moved to remark that his team were being treated ‘like the plague’, while team skipper Kamil Zayatte had reservations about his side’s experiences, particularly when they visited Uganda.

“Uganda was the worst,” claimed Zayatte. “As soon as we landed the airport workers were saying, ‘We don’t want you here, you have the virus’. Every player had come from Europe! They locked us away in a compound guarded by the military, and we couldn’t even go on to the street. At the match the crowd were chanting ‘Ebola! Ebola!’ We had a lot of abuse. It was horrible.”

That game in Kampala was lost, as was another away to Ghana, ensuring their chances of qualification weighed fully on whether they could beat the Ugandans – with whom they were tied on points after five matchdays – in their last qualifier. And win they did, chalking a 2-0 victory that secured their place as runners-up in Group E. It did feel good to qualify, Guineans would tell you, as the team had missed the previous edition of the Nations Cup.

Qualifying was indeed a tortuous process for the French-speaking West Africans, given that at a point in time, they had to do without the services of the influential Alhassane Bangoura, whose teammates at Spanish outfit Rayo Vallecano persuaded to withdraw from honouring call-ups lest he contracted the deadly haemorrhagic fever while on international duty.

Guinea prevailed, though, and duly registered their place among the 16 nations representing at Equatorial Guinea 2015. Dussuyer was to suffer further disappointments in the build-up, however, when two of the men he originally invited – France-based duo Bouna Sarr and Ismael Bangoura – declined the requests, instead opting to ‘focus on their club careers’, whatever that meant.

Still hustling

When the Afcon finally kicked off, Guinea weren’t quite out of the woods yet. There were few, if any, fans of their own present to back them through a tough Group D pool (where they had Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire and Mali to deal with). Regardless, they ploughed ahead. Against Cameroon and Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea held their own, failing to win but admirably picking points many deemed improbable against two of the pre-tournament favourites.

That said, a loss in their concluding group encounter versus Mali would possibly have sealed Guinea’s elimination, and that prospect, but for veteran Mali star Seydou Keita’s 18th minute penalty miss, might have well become a reality. Instead, Guinea held on to earn a third 1-1 draw. Yet even that result guaranteed nothing, given that Mali had also accumulated the same figures as Guinea in all categories on the table.

Even on all but one of Caf’s set of tiebreakers, the pair required a lots-drawing session to separate them to determine which would proceed to the knockout rounds. And when that event took place in Malabo last Thursday, Guinea emerged triumphant, sending Mali packing via the faintest of margins and booking a quarter-final date with Ghana on Sunday.

Such is just how ‘lucky’ they have been and, until the fat lady sings, Guinea could quite be the story of Afcon 2015.

They have been – in Harry Redknapp’s particular brand of English – simply ‘triffic’, and could prove even more so as the competition progresses.

The only way, at this stage, is up.