West Africans making headlines at World Cup
By all accounts, Equatorial Guinea should be the people's sentimental favorite at the women's World Cup. With a football pedigree as insignificant as its size and population of 670,000, the West African nation is playing its first tournament outside its own continent.
Yet no team has attracted controversy like it has.
On Tuesday, FIFA forced Equatorial Guinea to kick a player with Spanish ancestry out of its squad due to doubts about her citizenship. There have also been concerns about the addition of several players with Brazilian roots to improve the squad's quality.
Further compounding the problems, the gender of some players has been the subject of unfounded rumors in the media. None of the 21 players in Germany have been barred for medical reasons by FIFA, which dismisses the accusations.
But it still ensured coach Marcello Frigerio had a tall task in keeping his players focused on Wednesday's game against Norway.
''I had to do a lot to ensure that they can forget about all these things,'' the Brazilian said. ''But of course, the players also surf the internet. They read things, they look at things. We tried to screen these things out, eliminate them and focus on the Cup.''
Amazingly, they did.
The 61st-ranked Africans kept top 10 nation Norway scoreless for 84 minutes with a mixture of flair and perseverance before ultimately losing by a single goal in the biggest game of their history.
''Winning against Norway would have been a huge success,'' Frigerio added.
Mystery breeds suspicion. In that sense, some problems were almost invited. Frigerio said he sought to provide as little information as possible about his squad.
''We are a small country and we have to make sure it becomes an advantage for our team that our rivals don't have anything on us,'' Frigerio said, before adding with pride: ''Even on Google, you won't find a lot.''
His players used that anonymity to the best of their advantage against Norway, although they survived a second-minute scare when Emile Haavi hit the inside of the post.
It proved the beginning of a charmed run, as the tournament's biggest outsider gave the 1995 world champions a real fright.
Norway coach Eli Landsem was clearly dumbfounded. She could only identify captain Anonman by her brightly colored braids, calling her ''the one with the green hair.'' Anonman would have left a lasting memory had she converted one of her many chances.
Among Equatorial Guinea's half dozen players with Brazilian ancestry are standout goalkeeper Miriam and defender Carolina. Frigerio said buying players from other nations reflects the realities of a small country in a big world, and money is not a problem in a land rich in oil and gas.
''The players all have roots in Equatorial Guinea,'' he said. ''Either their parents or grandparents come from there.''
Frigerio said his task is to blend the Brazilian talents of positioning and ball skills with the physical stamina and willpower of the African players.
As evident in many national teams, Equatorial Guinea is also a reflection of an increasingly global melting pot. Take striker Jade Boho, who was sent home.
''She lives in Spain and she has a Spanish father but her mother is Guinean,'' Frigerio said. ''So where is the problem.''
Boho would have played Wednesday and could have heaped more pressure on Norway. Maybe her impact would've been decisive.
''Talk about national players, the word itself says that it the best players in the country, so if you are losing one of them you are suffering,'' Frigerio said.
But for a country whose first match outside of Africa was a tournament warm-up against Luxembourg - an even smaller nation - its confidence and belief that it can reach the quarterfinals has been boosted ahead of Sunday's game against Australia.
''I still think we can progress,'' Frigerio said.