Interview: Kamil Zayatte
The story of AFCON 2015 qualifying. Sheffield Wednesday defender and Guinea’s captain tells us how they did it…
December 2014. By Sam Crocker
How did it feel when you found out you qualified?
When the make the group for qualifying, everyone said that the favourite from this group was Ghana and Togo, no one believed in Guinea. As well as this, we played all our games away because of the Ebola virus, as we were not allowed to play at home. When people saw that, they said “Guinea don’t have a chance”. But we know our team, we play with heart, and we believe in our chance to play in the Africa Cup of Nations. We took a lot of heart from the first game against Togo (a 2-1 win at “home”), and made us sure that we can qualify.
You injured for the game against Uganda, when you went through, no?
Yes, I ended up playing only one game in qualifying, after injuring my hamstring in the game against Togo. But I’m still injured now, and am trying to get fit for when the Cup of Nations now. I think I will be fit.
After the Ghana game, when you only had one point from three games, were you concerned that you wouldn’t qualify?
No, no, because we believed in our team. It was disappointing to lose against Ghana, but they are a great side, and when we drew with them in the following game it really helped us to be close to Togo and Uganda. It really spurred us on to win the next two games, which meant we qualified for the Cup of Nations. It was a very tough group, so we were very happy to qualify.
What was the atmosphere like in the dressing room?
The dressing room is like every dressing room in Africa – we like to dance, we like to keep a positive atmosphere. We know each other, everyone is friend of everyone – we are a national team full of life.
Did you find Ebola bound you as a team?
I think so. It makes us more together. We got our qualification for the people of Guinea. When we started our competition, every country we went to, the people look at us like there is something wrong. Because we are Guinea, Ebola is in Guinea, and they think that we are sick. And we when see that, we said, “okay, we’re going to do this for our people who are affected by Ebola”.
Was it difficult when people looked at you as if you were sick?
It’s sad because we play in Europe – every Guinea player plays in Europe. And when they find out that we’re from Guinea, an Ebola country, everyone forgets that we came from Europe to play. Every time we tried to set up the training camp in a country, when the Guinea federation went there to set it up, a lot of countries said, “no, no, no, we don’t want you in our country”. When we went to Uganda, they said we were only allowed to bring 25 people. We had to leave five players at home, because we were not allowed to bring more than 25 people, and we had to bring coaches and staff from the federation. But when they came to play us in Morocco, we didn’t try to make it difficult for them, we just left it – as we knew we were going to win.
How was it playing in Morocco? Was it difficult with not so many fans there?
A lot of people from Guinea live in Morocco actually, so we had a lot of people come to the games. We had a good support. And some people from Senegal and other West African countries came to support us, because we play away, so we had many people come to watch us. It wasn’t like a home game. We would prefer to play at home in front of 30,000 people, but when we played in Morocco there still about 5000 people watching us. And the opposition only had two or three fans, which helped.
Were any of your teammates families affected by Ebola back in Guinea?
No I don’t think so. All of our teammates have family back in Conakry – the capital – and they are very good at stopping the spread of Ebola here. They wash their hands and take care of themselves, and are doing everything to stop Ebola coming to the capital.
Lass Bangoura wasn’t allowed to join up from his club side Rayo Vallecano because of Ebola…
I wasn’t in the national team then because I was injured, but I spoke to the coach about what happened. He wasn’t part of the squad who was called up for the game, but rather just went to the game to spend time with the national team. His club called him up and said, “where are you?”. He said, “I’m with the national team”. But they told him that he was not allowed to be there, because we was not on the list of played called-up for the squad, so he flew back to Spain.
How did your coach deal with it all? Was he a strong leader?
Oh yes, yes, he was very good. He lives in Guinea for a long time now, and knows so many players from Guinea. He always tries to play good football on the pitch. I think he’s one of the best coaches in Africa.
You’ve got quite a tough group in Equatorial Guinea. Which is the team you think you’re most likely to beat?
It’s a really, really tough group. Ivory Coast and Cameroon are two of the best teams in Africa, and Mali have done well in all the recent tournaments. They have a good team. But when we get there, we’re going to play like we know, and I think we have a good chance to get out of the group. We know all the other teams and how they’re going to play, but we know that we also have a good team, and we’re going to show them our quality and get out of the group.
Ivory Coast are quite an interesting team at the moment, as they concede a lot of goal. With players like Ibrahima Traore and Seydouba Soumah, do you think you can exploit that?
The best side of this Guinea team is the offensive side. We have a lot of players who can beat every team if they play with their heart. We have players who play in France, in Germany, all have good quality, and can beat anyone if they want to.
Seydouba Soumah – no one had really heard of him prior to this qualifying stage…
I know before he started scoring, a long time ago back in Guinea. He was renowned for being really good at freestyle before he got his move to Europe. He’s a really good player with a good technique, and has a good chance to play in a big league in Europe. He’ll do really well at the Cup of Nations.