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Last Updated: Tuesday, 29 May 2007, 16:19 GMT 17:19 UK
Equatorial Guinea import success
Phil Minshull
BBC Sport, Madrid

Rodolfo Bodipo
These two games are our games of the century
Rodolfo Bodipo

Four years ago, as the last Nations Cup qualifiers reached their climax, there would have been loud laughs if anyone had suggested that Equatorial Guinea were a team who would soon have to be taken seriously.

However, 'La Nzalang Nacional', which translates from the native Fang language as 'The National Lightning', are currently second in Group Five and just three points behind continental football giants Cameroon.

In the next two weeks Equatorial Guinea face crucial away matches against Rwanda and Liberia, who they have already beaten at home in the qualifiers, and good results could see them secure a place in the Nations Cup finals for the first time.

"These two games are our games of the century," said Equatorial Guinea's star striker Rodolfo Bodipo.

"For us, we are aiming to be among the best second-placed teams, Cameroon should be secure in first spot.

Benjamin Zarandona
Zarandona is another of Equatorial Guinea's Spanish-based players

"If things work out like this then there will be a big party to which everyone is invited.

"It will be a wonderful thing for Equatorial Guinea football and the whole country," added Bodipo, who plays for Spanish first division side Deportivo La Coruna.

"If we actually make the finals, I think we could cause a surprise. We've been playing other African teams and we've been enjoying some victories.

"If we make it in Ghana next year, it'll be a celebration, we'll enjoy ourselves and we'll give the people back home something to enjoy but we've still got to qualify first," added Bodipo.

"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," reflected the team's Spanish coach Quique Setien.

The recent football success of the only Spanish-speaking nation in Africa can be pinpointed to the shrewd policy of recruiting players, like Bodipo and Real Betis midfielder Benjamin Zarandona.

Ex-coach Oscar Engonga can take much of the credit for the upturn in Equatorial Guinea's fortunes.

Engonga, the brother of former Spanish international Vicente Engonga, took over at the helm in August 2003 when Equatorial Guinea were a lowly 178th in the Fifa world rankings; now they are nearly 100 places higher and rising.

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

The scouting mission provided immediate dividends and in his first competitive match in charge, Engonga named 10 Spanish-born players in his squad. The new-look team went on to complete a rare 1-0 win, against eventual finalists Togo, in a 2004 World Cup qualifying match.

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-based players ever since.

Engonga only lasted two years as the coach but Equatorial Guinea is still reaping the rewards of the import policy he put in place.



SEE ALSO
Bodipo makes injury return
10 May 07 |  African
Eq Guinea stay close to Cameroon
25 Mar 07 |  African


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