Equatorial Guinea might be one of the smallest countries in Africa, however, what is apparent is that football in the oil-producing country is on the ascendancy. It is in the women's game that the Equatorial Guineans have made the quickest inroads, qualifying for their maiden FIFA Women's World Cup in 2011. Contrary to assumptions, it has not been an achievement built on a run of luck or fortunate victories, but rather a planned advancement achieved with remarkable quickness. Besides Nigeria, the country of just 650,000 people is the only African nation to have won a women's crown. A late bloomer on even the continental scene, Equatorial Guinea are a closed book to the rest of the world, and, unlike their African counterparts and fellow participants Nigeria, they will enjoy a low profile without any expectations on their shoulders.
For the last few years, the Nzalang Nacional have been building a formidable side in the obscurity of Malabo, the country's capital city, which sits on an island off of mainland Africa. Before the 2008 Women’s African Championships, where they betrayed expectations and won the trophy as hosts, very few knew about the strengths of their side. The first time people took notice of the emerging power was back in 2007 after they defeated a heavily favoured South African side 2-1 in an Olympic qualifier. A year before that, they were eliminated in the group stage at their maiden participation at the African Championships. Now, as they walk onto the world stage for the first time, they will be eager to make a grand entrance.
The road to Germany
Even after their continental triumph in 2008, Equatorial Guinea were still seen as outsiders to defend their crown two years later, with countries like Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and Cameroon enjoying the lion’s share of publicity. However, they once again stunned Africa by qualifying for a second successive final, which qualified them for Germany 2011. Even though they lost in the ultimate contest 4-2, they put up a tenacious fight against a more clinical and ruthless Nigerian side, and they won many admirers for their gutsy performances.
The star players
In 2008, it was not easy for anyone to single out stars in the ‘Nzalang Nacional’. Goalkeeper Miriam Paixao Silva is vital for the Equatorial Guinea defence. In the semi-final, a 3-1 win over South Africa, and in the final defeat, she was one of the most consistent performers for the team.
Marcelo Frigerio became the new coach of Equatorial Guinea in March 2011. He took over from Congolese Jean-Paul Mpila who had guided the team through qualification. Frigerio won his first two matches in charge, both against Cameroon, which went someway to prove his impressive reputation from Sao Paulo for success as well as pioneering work in women’s football. “This is the biggest opportunity of my career,” he said after being handed the job. The 40-year-old is also an Italian citizen.
Previous FIFA Women's World Cups
1 – The number of times Equatorial Guinea have won the African crown. That was back in 2008, when they also handed Nigeria their only-ever defeat in the event.
10 – The number of goals Equatorial Guinea scored at the African Women’s Championships in 2010.
What they said
“The women’s team of Equatorial Guinea are like the Brazil men’s team. The players are idols and greeted like stars after each match. After their last win, it took two hours before we could leave the stadium. There can be nothing else like it in women’s football anywhere in the world.” Marcelo Frigerio, Equatorial Guinea coach.