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Equatorial Guinea aims to avoid Ivory Coast Clash

posted by – January 30th, 2012

MALABO, Equatorial Guinea (AP) -Equatorial Guinea captain Juvenal Edjogo-Owono wants to finish the group stage in top spot to avoid a clash with African Cup favorite Ivory Coast in the quarterfinals.

Co-host Equatorial Guinea, the lowest ranked team in the tournament, has made full use of home advantage to beat Libya 1-0 and Senegal 2-1 with dramatic late goals in both matches to guarantee a last-eight berth.

A draw against Zambia in the final Group A game on Sunday will secure top spot. Ivory Coast will also finish first with at least a draw against Angola in the final Group B match on Monday. If both teams finish top, they can only meet in the final.

“We are not afraid of anyone, but none of the players really want to play Ivory Coast at this stage,” Edjogo-Owono told The Associated Press in an interview.

Despite failing to hit top form in edgy wins against Sudan and Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast is Africa’s top-ranked side and has a team packed with Premier League-based players like Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure, Kolo Toure and Salomon Kalou.

In contrast, Equatorial Guinea’s players are largely unknown, with modest careers in places like Spain’s second and third tier, the Brazilian lower leagues and Oman.

“All the supporters are saying they don’t care who we play and that they’re not worried about Ivory Coast,” Edjogo-Owono said. “But we know Ivory Coast are a level above the rest.”

Equatorial Guinea’s performances in the tournament have been a revelation so far, with late victories stoking excitement in the tiny west African nation.

“Everybody is supporting us and we have got good players, but when there’s a competition like this, you don’t know how the people are going to respond,” said Edjogo-Owono. “Sometimes there is too much expectation, but I think the fans have started to believe. Against Senegal they came to see a victory.”

Equatorial Guinea duly responded, blunting the Senegal attack on the waterlogged pitch at Estadio de Bata before David Alvarez’ long-range screamer in stoppage time clinched a 2-1 win.

“Senegal played the wrong tactics. They were desperate for an early goal and then got nervous and started playing long balls,” said Edjogo-Owono. “Long balls even everything up. If they had given better service to Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse they could have really hurt us.”

With co-host Gabon also reaching the quarterfinals after hitting a stoppage-time goal to beat Morocco 2-1 on Friday, the buzz around the tournament is building.

That excitement is boosted by the big teams struggling to impose themselves. Ivory Coast has failed to convince despite two wins, Ghana scraped past Botswana by a single goal and Senegal and Morocco have both been eliminated.

That has encouraged less fancied teams to believe in themselves.

If results go as expected, Equatorial Guinea looks likely to face Angola in the quarterfinals.

First, however, the co-host has to play Zambia in the Group A decider.

Edjogo-Owono said changes to the starting line-up against Zambia are likely as several players – including Senegal hero Alvarez – have yellow cards.

“Zambia is a small team, very technical – a bit like us,” said Edjogo-Owono. “But we want to keep going now. If we play against Angola in the quarterfinals, we are convinced we can win.

“We always dreamt we could do well, now the victories against Libya and Senegal have got everybody dreaming.”

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