Before 2012 when they co-hosted the Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) with neighbors Gabon, Equatorial Guinean football was nothing to write home about. In fact, they had not participated in any CAF organized competition at senior level and few people even knew little about the tiny Central African nation. They managed to reach the quarter-finals in their maiden appearance after finishing second in a group which comprised Zambia, Libya and Senegal.They were eventually knocked out of the competition by Cote d' Ivoire. Prior to the 2015 AFCON, Morocco were reluctant to host the competition in the wake of the Ebola pandemic. Equatorial Guinea confirmed that they were ready to step in and host. After an emergency meeting by the top hierarchy of the African football ruling body (CAF), the rights were given to them. ALSO READ: AFCON 2023: Equatorial Guinea hero Nsue eyes top scorer award Initially, Equatorial Guinea would not have participated if the competition was to be held in Morocco as they had been banned by CAF. They used Cameroon-born player Thierry Fidjeu in their two-legged preliminary round tie against Mauritania and they were found guilty and hence disqualified. In another incident, they had done fake passports and naturalized seven Brazilians with each player earning $3000 dollars for each match played. They were charged and temporarily suspended. Even before that, in 2012, both their male and female national teams were dragged to CAF for similar offenses with then DR Congo head coach Claude Le Roy stating that Equatorial Guinea were acting like the United Nations. In 2015, I had the chance to cover the AFCON in Equatorial Guinea and I can say it is one of the most well-organized CAF competitions in recent years. The citizens love their national team which is nicknamed Nzalang translated to English as National Thunder. Each day Equatorial Guinea had a match in that tournament, all shops and businesses were closed at 12:00 pm as people trooped to the stadium to support the team. What Equatorial Guinea tried to do previously and didn't do it legitimately, they now got things right. They even no longer decided to naturalize players from other countries but rather focused on any player born in Spain who has a pinch of Equatorial Guinean roots. They did thorough scouting and identified all those players. Emilio Nsue Lopez, a former Spanish youth international who had played for the European nation from U15s to U21s and had previously turned down an invitation to switch allegiance to the country of his father in 2012 but he finally agreed to feature for the Nzalang in the 2015 AFCON. He was immediately made captain of the national team which assembled a squad made up of 17 players born in Spain, with one born in Cameroon whereas only five were born in the country for the 2015 AFCON. With the huge Spanish influence in the team, they played a typical Spanish football under Argentine coach Esteban Becker. With players such as former Real Madrid star Javier Balboa, Emilio Nsue, Iban Salvador, and Ivan Bolado, they went all the way to the semifinals before being stopped by a ruthless Black Stars squad. They went on to finish fourth which remains their best ever position in the AFCON. Equatorial Guinea gained independence from Spain on October 12, 1968 but it remains one of the few countries on the African continent which has strong ties with its former colonial masters. It is relatively easier to travel to Spain as a citizen of Equatorial Guinea and many of them are there which the country is benefiting from. In AFCON 2021, head coach Juan Micha picked 16 Spanish-born players in his 28-man squad and it proved vital again as Nzalang reached the quarter finals. Equatorial Guinea is flying again in the 2023 AFCON in Côte d'Ivoire. Out of their 27-man squad, 19 were born in Spain, one was born in neighboring Cameroon, two were born in Equatorial Guinea but moved to Spain with their families as kids while only five were born and bred in Equatorial Guinea. The Spanish connection has made the team intact, they play like Europeans and have the European mentality. Their head coach Juan Micha also lived in Spain and understands the Spanish football which he is implementing. Going to the 2023 AFCON, only a few recognized Equatorial Guinea but after three group games, pundits and connoisseurs are beginning to re-write their notes. Don't be deceived! Equatorial Guinea have real quality. They held Nigeria to a 1-1 draw, thrashed Guinea Bissau 4-2 before humbling host nation Côte d'Ivoire 4-0. In all, scoring nine goals and conceding three is no fluke. The surprising thing is that their skipper Nsue, who plays for Spanish third tier club Intercity, and is the competition's top scorer so far with five goals in three games is not a striker. Nsue plays as a right back or a right winger at club level but he is doing magic being deployed in a striking role while on national team duty. You can only underrate Nsue, Iban Salvador, Pablo Garnet, and Saul Coco's Equatorial Guinea at your own peril.