Equatorial Guinea – Team guide, key players, lineup, prediction

AFCON 2023 Equatorial Guinea – Team guide, key players, lineup, prediction

Solace Chukwu 23:46 - 01.01.2024

All you need to know about the Nzalang Nacional of Equatorial Guinea ahead of AFCON 2023

Barely a decade ago, one would have been hard pressed to say anything at all about Equatorial Guinea, so it is to their credit that they have made themselves a factor at this level. They are now firmly ensconced in the ‘spoiler’ category, the tier that regularly takes out undercooked bigger sides, and it’s a role they play with relish.

Juan Micha’s side came through AFCON qualifying fairly comfortably, only conceding three goals in their final five matches in the series and winning four of six matches. Across 2023, Equatorial Guinea are unbeaten in seven, boasting five wins including a well-earned triumph over perennial opponent Tunisia. 

They are the 88th-best team in the world according to the FIFA rankings, and the 18th-best in Africa.

The history

It is remarkable, considering the fact they have only ever been at the AFCON thrice, that Equatorial Guinea have done as well as they have. Nzalang Nacional have managed to emerge from the Group Stage every time, and finished fourth in 2015. However, it has to be noted that, in 2012 and 2015, they were a host nation in some capacity. 

Equatorial Guinea stunned Algeria at the 2021 AFCON
Equatorial Guinea stunned Algeria at the 2021 AFCON

They were not in 2021, and still they performed creditably, effectively eliminating both Algeria and Mali, and giving eventual champions Senegal a bit of a scare in the last eight.

The coach and tactical approach

Juan Micha has been in charge of Equatorial Guinea since 2010, and has in that time built a side that is extremely difficult to beat. Not for nothing was he nominated for the CAF Coach of the Year award; his 4-2-3-1 is about organisation, but boasts some interesting quirks going forward in the asymmetrical use of the full-backs. 

Equatorial Guinea national football team coach Juan Micha
Equatorial Guinea coach Juan Micha

Under him, the Equatoguineans typically get the ball forward quickly, but do not score a lot of goals. Perhaps that cannot be helped, given their modest standing and quality.

Key players

Judging by the fact that he not only wears the armband, but has scored in four of his last five international appearances, Emilio Nsue is the unmistakable talisman of this side. He never quite hit the heights expected of him as a Spain youth international, but he has been an outstanding servant for Equatorial Guinea, and averages just under a goal every two matches.

Equatorial Guinea will look to Emilio Nsue at AFCON 2023
Equatorial Guinea will look to Emilio Nsue at AFCON 2023

Pulling the strings in midfield will be Monza midfielder Jose Machin, whose elegance in carrying the ball and evasiveness against pressure helps the team not only hold its own in the middle of the park, but get up the pitch. 

Jesus Owono was one of the standout goalkeepers of the 2021 AFCON up until the quarter-final stage, and will need to play to the same standard or better if Nzalang Nacional are to stand a chance of progressing from Group A. 

Young player to watch

With such a settled side that has been together for the better part of four years, Micha clearly prizes experience. As such, there are not a lot of standout youngsters to get excited about. However, Numancia centre-forward Noe Ela Mangue made his international debut off the bench in September, and could be the future of the Equatorial Guinea attack.

Equatorial Guinea squad to the 2023 AFCON
Equatorial Guinea squad to the 2023 AFCON

Probable lineup

Jesus Owono; Carlos Akapo, Esteban Orozco, Saul Coco, Basilio Ndong; Pablo Ganet, Federico Bikoro; Iban Salvador, Jose Machin, Josete Miranda; Emilio Nsue

Tournament prediction

Equatorial Guinea sprang a surprise last time out, progressing from the Group Stage at the expense of reigning champions Algeria. The order is a lot taller now, but if they can take advantage of Nigeria’s lack of balance, an upset could be on the cards. Otherwise, progression may have to come via a third-place finish.

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