As part of the countdown to South Africa 2010, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter has embarked on a three-day trip to west Africa. Prior to visiting Sao Tome e Principe and Gabon later this week, Blatter began his busy itinerary by jetting into Equatorial Guinea on Monday. As well as opening the national FA’s new headquarters and technical centre, he also had an audience with the country’s prime minister and stopped off at a sports complex in the capital city of Malabo, situated on Bioko Island, just off mainland Equatorial Guinea.

“This is the first time I have been to your country but it will definitely not be the last. You have so many development projects going on that I will almost certainly have to come back,” said a smiling Blatter on his arrival in Malabo, where he was warmly greeted by a large crowd that had gathered to see him cut the tape on the new complex built for the FEGUIFUT, the national football association.

Comprising a national technical centre and FA headquarters, the complex was made possible by not one but two Goal projects, the former implemented in 2002 and the latter in 2006. Joining Blatter at the opening were a number of national dignitaries, including the Minister for Education, Science and Sport Filiberto Ntutumu Nguema, the Secretary of State for Sport Ruslang Obiang Nsue, and FEGUIFUT President Bonifacio Manga Obiang.

Thanking FIFA for the backing it has given the national FA and the sport in general, Mr Manga Obiang said: “We have been able to open these headquarters thanks to FIFA, who, as a result of this project, have given us the opportunity to operate effectively. I must say that all the programmes that FIFA has put in place, such as the Financial Assistance Programme, Goal and Win in Africa with Africa, are playing their part in the gradual development of the game of football.”

Thanks to all these football development initiatives Equatorial Guinea is on the right road, and the hosting of the CAF African Cup of Nations in 2012 will also help promote the game here.

FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter

Mr Nguema then expressed his gratitude to the FIFA President for funding the headquarters and for FIFA’s unstinting support for football in Equatorial Guinea. Following the blessing of the complex by a priest, Blatter said: “Thanks to all these football development initiatives Equatorial Guinea is on the right road, and the hosting of the CAF African Cup of Nations in 2012 will also help promote the game here. Further progress has been made by the women’s U-15 team, who will take part in the inaugural Youth Olympic Games this summer. I would like to congratulate them on their magnificent achievement.”

Qualification for the Games, which take place in Singapore and where Equatorial Guinea have been drawn in the same group as Chile and Trinidad and Tobago, represents quite an achievement for a country that is one of the smallest in Africa and which has a population of only 650,000.

The FIFA delegation then visited the residence of the Prime Minister Ignacio Milam Tang, a genuine football lover who was the head of the FA when it joined FIFA back in 1986. Also in attendance at the meeting was FIFA’s Director of Member Associations and Development Thierry Regenass, the FEGUIFUT President and members of the government.

Addressing those present, the FIFA President said: “It is important to be here today because this country needs us. Football brings both excitement and hope to society. By coming here we can see for ourselves that the work undertaken jointly by the football family, sports bodies and government agencies has borne fruit. FIFA will also wholeheartedly support your efforts to create an academy. I honestly believe that with the support of development projects your little country can play a bigger role in both the footballing and political future of Africa and the wider world.”

Following their stay in Equatorial Guinea, the delegation will head to  Sao Tome e Principe and then Gabon and from there on to South Africa, where the world finals will shortly be getting under way.