Belfast Telegraph

Fangs for the memories and the fun from Cup of Nations

By Billy Weir

As you read this I am on my way to a new life in a land far, far away that until this week hadn't featured on my radar - Equatorial Guinea.

Of course, this is not to be confused with Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Papua New Guinea, or indeed small hairy creatures, this is the one that is hosting the African Cup of Nations.

No-one gave them a hope when they stepped in at the last minute to save the competition when Morocco pulled out, but not only have they put on a great show, they've only gone and qualified from the group stages.

The African Cup of Nations is an education, as Matt Smith told us on ITV4 ahead of my new adopted homeland's derby clash with neighbouring Gabon, formed when Gary Newbon was annexed after a coup in 2003.

"We've had a week of fun already - goals, skills, tackles to stop a bus and, of course, dancing goalies," he said, but there's much, much more. I mean, did you know there were two Congos? Still no confirmation as to who has territorial rights over Um Bongo. Or did you know that the main indigenous population of Equatorial Guinea is known as the Fangs?

Nor did I know that this little corner of west Africa is about the same size as Northern Ireland and has a stadium that holds 35,000 people, thankfully the EGFA seem to be a bit more on the ball than the Third World version over here.

It also used to be known as Spanish Guinea, and there is still much evidence of that link, with 10 of the team shipped in from Spain, including the wonderfully-named Javier Balboa, not so much the Italian Stallion as the Equatoguinean Equine.

And who couldn't love a jaunty national anthem that translates as 'Let us walk the paths of our immense happiness' which everyone pretended to sing along to, a nice treat for the Spanish whose own anthem remains wordless.

The gifts kept on coming, the right back called Randy Iyanga. I'm not sure what an Iyanga is but best to approach them with caution and that's how they dealt with the neighbours, with the game scoreless at the break.

Commentator Joe Speight was struggling for something to say and had to resort to Plan B.

"The African teams have some quite imaginative nicknames," he began. "Gabon are known as The Panthers (this would explain why their substitutes were wearing pink bibs) and Equatorial Guinea call themselves The National Thunder." I love this country.

Of course, I'm not the first man from this part of the world to try my luck in that part of the world, with one of ITV's highlights shows featuring the unlikely duo of Quinton Fortune from South Africa and Johnny McKinstry from, err, south Lisburn.

The former Sierra Leone manager, who somehow managed to pick up an accent heading down the Graeme McDowell route, was a welcome addition to the team and I wished I'd given him a shout before packing, I'm sure two duffel coats is too much.

And then things really rumbled. Balboa went down as if floored by Apollo Creed, then got back off the canvas and slotted home the penalty to send the Fangs wild.

A bit of a lull in the action brought Joe back to discussing the sporting pedigree of my new home.

"It's not usually a country blessed with a sporting pedigree in that one of their most infamous sportsmen is Eric the Eel, one of the slowest swimmers ever in the Olympics in 2000," he explained. If only he'd learned to dive like Balboa, he'd have been so much quicker.

And then we were in dreamland, as Ivan Edu Salvador scored and my fellow Equatoguineans were in raptures and into the quarter-finals.

They'll be dancing in the streets of Bata and Malobo tonight, and tomorrow night too probably. Here's to the last eight.

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