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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 May 2007, 12:39 GMT 13:39 UK
Footballers step-out of 'Eel's' shadow
Eric 'The Eel' Moussambani
'Eric the Eel' finishing after other athletes at the 2000 Olympics
For those who lament that Equatorial Guinea remains best known in the sporting arena for its hapless swimmer Eric Moussambani, the national football team is restoring some pride.

Moussambani - remembered, usually disparagingly, as 'Eric The Eel' - made the news around the world with his floundering efforts at the 2000 Olympics only eight months after learning to swim.

By contrast, Equatorial Guinea's football team are starting to make headlines of their own because they are on the verge of qualifying for the African Nations Cup finals for the first time.

"I think we are finally making people forget about Eric The Eel," said Equatorial Guinea's Spanish coach Quique Setien.

La Nzalang Nacional, the team's nickname translates from the native Fang language as 'The National Lightning', are second in their group and just three points behind continental football giants Cameroon.

'Cameroon Clash'

The stage is set for the two team's clash in September in Equatorial Guinea's capital Malabo, where games are often played in over 40 degrees of heat, to decide who goes automatically to the 2008 African Nations Cup in Ghana.

"We're not going to lower our sights but we are realistic and we know that we're some way behind the teams we're competing against," added Setien, who only took over as coach in October after the previous Brazilian incumbent Antonio Dunga fell out with the federation.

I think we are finally making people forget about Eric The Eel
Equatorial Guinea's Spanish coach Quique Setien

"We've been drawn against a world-class side in Cameroon and only one country qualifies automatically from each group along with the top three second-placed sides.

"We have to make a huge improvement if we're going to be one of them.

"It is true, though that the players have a lot of pride and they're committed to the cause.

"They'll do whatever it takes to give the people something to shout about," said Setien.

The recent rise of Equatorial Guinea, with a population of barely half a million, can be pinpointed to the shrewd policy of recruiting players with Equatorial Guinean roots playing in Spain by their former coach Oscar Engonga.

Engonga, the brother of former Spanish international Vicente Engonga who played in the 2000 European Championships, took over at the helm in August 2003.

'Spanish Connection'

At the time Equatorial Guinea were a lowly 178th in the rankings of the world governing body Fifa but now they are nearly 100 places higher.

With Spain being the former colonial master of what was once known as Spanish Guinea until independence in 1968, there are historic links between the two countries.

"I knew there were a number of players with Spanish clubs who were eligible for Equatorial Guinea and so started talking to them about playing for the country," added Engonga.

In his first competitive match in charge, Engonga named 10 Spanish-born players in his squad and they notched up what was then a rare win when they beat eventual finalists Togo 1-0 in a 2004 World Cup qualifying match.

'Zaradona'

Benjamin Zarandona
Equatorial Guinea and Real Betis midfielder Benjamin Zarandona

Togo won the return leg 2-0 to set them on the road to Germany but Equatorial Guinea has continued with the trend of using Spanish imports ever since, even though Engonga only lasted two years as the coach.

Equatorial Guinea's best-known player is the Real Betis midfielder Benjamin Zarandona, a Spanish under-21 international who was called up by their senior squad ahead of the 1998 World Cup but never got on the field.

"I got fed up waiting for another chance with Spain so last summer I decided to play for Equatorial Guinea.

"Playing for them has been one of the highlights of my season," added Zarandona, whose mother was from Equatorial Guinea and whose brother Ivan also plays for them.



SEE ALSO
Eq Guinea stay close to Cameroon
25 Mar 07 |  African
2008 Nations Cup Group 5
26 Mar 07 |  African


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