BISSAU (Reuters) - Unheralded Guinea Bissau hope to draw inspiration from former colonial power Portugal, who won the European championship six months ago, as they prepare to make their debut at the African Nations Cup finals.
One of the world’s poorest countries and ranked in the bottom 10 in the United Nation’s human development index, Guinea Bissau caused a sensation in booking a place at the 16-team tournament in Gabon, where they will meet the hosts in the opening match in Libreville on Jan. 14.
Team co-ordinator Caito Balde says the side want to continue to surprise the footballing world at the finals and do what Portugal did in France in July.
“Portugal are an inspiration to us for what they did at the Euro 2016 in France. Many of the players in the Guinea Bissau team have played with many of those players who have now become champions of Europe. They have passed through the best training school that is Portugal and will look to show that at the Nations Cup,” he said in an interview with the Portuguese news agency Lusa on Sunday.
But Guinea Bissau will still have to overcome serious problems if they are to make any impact, not least their haphazard preparations.
Promised government support to pay for a training camp ahead of the tournament has not materialised. Instead a preliminary squad of 26 players has assembled at Bissau’s national stadium daily since last Thursday for training, some sessions watched by up to 5 000 spectators.
It is still not known if a warm-up friendly will be organised for the team before they depart for Libreville next week.
Long overdue appearance fees from the qualifying campaign had been paid on Friday, Balde said, but his plans to boost the squad with several players of Guinea Bissau extraction from around Europe had fallen through.
“We called up some players who made a commitment that they would play, but at the last minute they went back on their word,” he said.
But Balde has insisted the small west African country would field a strong team. ”We have assembled the best players from Guinea. They have been carefully selected.”
The final 23-man squad will be named on Wednesday.
Guinea Bissau, which had gained unwanted notoriety as a transit hub for cocaine smugglers and has been beset by frequent coup d’etats and almost constant political instability, made sure of a place in the finals by finishing ahead of former champions Zambia and Congo in their qualifying group.
They will become the 39th country to participate in the finals since the first tournament in 1957, but were a Leicester-like long shot when the preliminaries got underway, having only previously won four matches in Nations Cup and World Cup qualification combined since first entering international competition 23 years ago.
Reporting by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Mitch Phillips