By Sam Crocker
In many ways it is remarkable to even be writing this preview. Turned on its head by the modern day Ebola pandemic, it may be a bit coarse to compare the struggles of the football team to the struggles of the country as a whole, but in the past three months Guinea reversed the narrative to defy expectations and become the story of qualifying.
Forced to play their home games outside of Guinea, as Ebola-fearing Morocco ended up being their temporary home in Casablanca, they not only overcame being completely devoid of home advantage, but the mental decimation in dealing with what was going on at home. And when you look at how problems at home impacted on Sierra Leone’s qualification campaign, you can truly appreciate the scale of what they have done.
Stranded on four points after four games, two wins from the final two games was enough to drag themselves over the line, as they held their nerve against Uganda in the final game, winning 2-0 in their adopted home in the second-place decider. Finishing just one point between a stuttering Ghana side, they return to the Cup of Nations finals after missing out in South Africa, making Equatorial Guinea familiar territory from when they went out at the group stage in 2012. They will be a side looking to continue that drive to give the people at home something to celebrate, and with such emotional events occurring last time Equatorial Guinea hosted, it is no wonder that some are calling Guinea the “new Zambia”.
Starting in a 4-3-3 formation, the name of Guinea’s game is to counter with pace. A defence marshalled by the experienced Kamil Zayatte and Florentin Pogba (brother of Paul), a settled, young midfield with a base of two defensive midfielders with Ibrahima Conte just ahead of them, the transition up the pitch is electric. Their front three, normally made up of Ibrahima Traore, Idrissa Sylla and Seydouba Soumah, are able to take the ball towards goal at pace. Tending to not dominate possession, they instead rely on the strong dribbling ability and movement of these three for the fast creation of chances.
Clinical finishing – A necessity for a successful counter-attacking style, Guinea have proved to be absolutely ruthless finishers, with the front three often sharing the goals between them. Seydouba Soumah in particular showed this in qualifying, scoring five goals, and have young Lyon forward Mohamed Yattara to come in should one need replacing.
Lack of experience – A fairly low average age and not many to have been to previous tournaments, the defence particularly lacks that “been there, done that” attitude. Only managing to keep one clean sheet in qualifying, you do fear the likes of Ivory Coast could take them apart if they have a bad day.
Ibrahima Traore – A dazzling player on his day, the Borussia Monchengladbach player has been impressing domestically since his summer move there, and his fast, tricky dribbling style fits perfectly into this Guinean setup. Captaining the side, he will be at the head of any success they have, acting as both a goal threat and a provider for his teammates. Watch out for Traore leading the charge of the Guinean counter attack.
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Seydouba Soumah – Practically unheard-of prior to this round of qualifying, six goals in his first eight games for his country has seen him rocket to the top of the list of “players to watch” in Equatorial Guinea. Playing for Slovan Bratislava, his diminutive but powerful running ability has made him Guinea’s main goal threat., and could do some unexpected damage if teams choose to not do their homework on Soumah.
Michel Dussuyer – Now on his third stint at Guinea manager since first taking the job in 2002, this will be his third crack at the Cup of Nations with Guinea, after managing a quarter-final appearance with them in 2004, and fourth overall if you include his spell at Benin manager in 2010. Well-admired
by his players and proving he is a strong leader in difficult circumstances during qualification, he knows his Guinean players better than anyone.
Group stage exit – In the second toughest group at the tournament, a Zambia-esque miracle is looking unlikely, despite the Ebola motivations of the players. Up against some of the best sides in the continent and tournament veterans, Guinea may sadly be going back early.