Eq Guinea, Libya to get African Cup under way
Neither Equatorial Guinea nor Libya will lack for incentive when they open the African Cup of Nations on Saturday.
Straight afterwards, Senegal face Zambia in the same 37,500-capacity Bata Stadium in the Group A doubleheader.
Equatorial Guinea's squad has been promised a share of a $1 million win bonus for the opening match, but has injury doubts over mainstay striker Rodolfo Bodipo.
Bodipo, who plays with Spanish second-tier club Deportivo La Coruna, said he picked up a knock on his left ankle in a warmup match against South Africa but hoped to be available for his team's first ever match at the African Cup.
The No. 151-ranked team had a fractured buildup after experienced French coach Henri Michel resigned just weeks ago.
That left Brazilian replacement Gilson Paulo with little time to get to know his squad.
''The Equatorial Guinea people are very passionate for football and we will be hoping to give them a good result in the first game so they can relax and enjoy the tournament,'' Paulo said. ''We will be trying to put on a good, strong show, but it has to be realized that the preparation time was short.''
Libya is determined to cap a year in which Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown with success at the continent's showpiece tournament.
''The key of qualifying is always the first game,'' said Libya's Brazilian coach Marcos Paqueta. ''Libya and Equatorial Guinea are in third and fourth position if we rank the group. Senegal and Zambia are favorites, so the first game is the key game for us.''
Paqueta said Libya's players were aware of the extra motivation to do well.
''This is one of the best moments we have been through with the Libyan national team,'' he said. ''It was a very difficult year not just for the national team but for all the Libyan people. All the players are conscious this is a good opportunity to bring some joy to the Libyan people who deserve that after all they have been through.''
Zambia also had a crisis with its preparations when the players were forced to move from the hotel they were staying in just two days before its first game after coach Herve Renard criticized the facilities.
''We can't make any excuses about that, it was a problem but we resolved the problem,'' the French coach said. ''We just have to be focused on the competition.''
Renard said Zambia could benefit from its underdog status.
''A lot of players and coaches would like to be in our place,'' he said. ''There's no stress for us. When we go to the pitch tomorrow, we will look at our opponent, we know them because they are playing in the Champions League, but we will say 'we want to beat you.'
''You can create a big surprise. You just have to fight for your flag, for your colors,'' he added. ''This is very important. You are feeling something different when you are in Africa - it's a fantastic tournament.''
The hopes of Senegal, one of the tournament favorites, rest on a star-studded attack led by Newcastle United striker Demba Ba and Lille forward Moussa Sow.
Senegal's arrival at the tournament seems to have been somewhat smoother, but coach Amara Traore tried to play down his team's billing as possible champions.
''We are not the favorites, but Senegal has ambition,'' he said. ''We have a lot of motivation to win the first match so we can relax a bit for the second game.''
The team attracted a couple of hundred supporters to its practice session Friday in Biqui, a barely finished training venue that has been hacked out of the jungle on the outskirts of Bata.
The fans chanted and shouted encouragement as the players took part in a gentle practice match. Outside, builders were laying concrete and applying coats of paint to the complex - a far cry from the experiences of several Senegal players who are based in Europe and have played in some of the world's top stadiums.