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Eq. Guinea faces neighbor Gabon for quarterfinal place

January 24, 2015

BATA, Equatorial Guinea (AP) — Neighbors Equatorial Guinea and Gabon will suspend their close friendship on Sunday as the teams meet in a decisive match for a quarterfinal place at the African Cup of Nations.

The hopes of host Equatorial Guinea — and maybe the organizers’ hopes for good crowds for the rest of the African Cup — rest on a win over Gabon at Bata Stadium as the final round of group games begin.

New coach Esteban Becker has referred to his Equatorial Guinea as “a team for the future,” but it needs to deliver now to reach the last eight, satisfy the home fans and keep them coming back to the stadiums. It’s a common theme at African Cups that, when the host goes out, attendances tend to dip.

Equatorial Guinea is unbeaten in Group A, but also didn’t convert impressive periods into wins with draws against Republic of Congo and Burkina Faso.

Gabon, which co-hosted the 2012 Cup of Nations with Equatorial Guinea, appeared to be the group’s best team after opening with a slick 2-0 win over 2013 finalist Burkina Faso. But the unpredictability of the African Cup struck when the Gabonese then lost to Republic of Congo, which has qualified for its first championship in 15 years.

Gabon has better players, led by Germany-based striker and captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. But Equatorial Guinea will have most of the 35,000-strong crowd in Bata urging it on.

If Equatorial Guinea does win, it’ll be a poor way to repay Gabon for the 20 buses it provided to help with the hosting of Africa’s soccer championship.

While Equatorial Guinea plays Gabon at Bata, Republic of Congo and Burkina Faso meet in Ebebiyin. The African Cup’s schedule changes for the last round of group games, which are played simultaneously and not back-to-back at the same stadium like earlier fixtures.

With the last group games, there’s also often a set of complex scenarios depending on who wins, who draws and who loses — and by how many goals.

For the Congolese, it’s simple: After their torrid buildup — which included problems with their hotel and team bus — they need at least a draw against Burkina Faso to make the quarterfinals for the first time in over two decades.

Burkina Faso has been disappointing in Equatorial Guinea after making the final two years ago, but still has an outside chance of squeezing through to the quarters if it beats Republic of Congo and the result of the Equatorial Guinea-Gabon game is also favorable.

The hopes of the Burkinabes rest on finally finding their attacking game. Highly-rated forwards Alain Traore, Jonathan Pitroipa and Aristide Bance have all come up short so far, with Burkina Faso the only one of the 16 teams at the tournament yet to find the net.

“Unfortunately we cannot score and that’s the problem,” coach Paul Put said. “That’s the game.”

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