Senegal crashes out of African Cup of Nations
MALABO, Equatorial Guinea (AP) -Senegal's players looked shell-shocked as they trudged off the field following their 2-1 loss to Equatorial Guinea, some with tears in their eyes.
Senegal's team, packed with European-based players boasting Champions League experience, were beaten by a group of journeymen footballers, largely unknown even in Equatorial Guinea.
The result on Wednesday eliminated Senegal and earned Equatorial Guinea an unexpected quarterfinal place.
"We have nothing to reproach ourselves for because we gave everything. We just didn't succeed,'' Senegal captain Mamadou Niang said. "The first 20 minutes of the match against Zambia were decisive, we were completely disorganized. We got it together after 20 minutes, but it was already 2-0 and it was a bit too late. We really have a lot of sadness and disappointment.''
Senegal had been warned.
On Tuesday, Ivory Coast coach Francois Zahoui asked his players to be "very humble'' at the African Cup and not be sidetracked by problems, like dressing rooms that are like "microwave ovens.''
"Even the team of Equatorial Guinea that everyone was dismissing has won its (opening) game,'' Zahoui said. "All the big teams of this tournament should expect to suffer.''
Ivory Coast, preparing in Malabo to face Burkina Faso in its second group match, faced a tricky opponent in Sudan in its opener.
Didier Drogba's first-half header earned a narrow win for Ivory Coast, but the team received criticism for failing to impress against its lowly ranked opponent.
Afterward, Zahoui suggested his star players were too accustomed to the pampered atmosphere at their European clubs and need to tough it out when coming to Africa.
"My main desire is to ask the players to be careful - you are not in your clubs any more,'' Zahoui said. "When you play in Europe you have referees with a certain way of doing the job, great quality pitches ... but here we are in an African environment. We play in the heat with referees who do the best they can - it's a very particular context. You leave your clubs and all their comforts behind.''
Senegal's players looked extremely uncomfortable as they toiled against Equatorial Guinea.
None symbolized the team's struggles more than striker Demba Ba, who has scored 15 goals for Newcastle in the Premier League so far this season but has misfired at the African Cup.
Ba should have given Senegal a nerve-calming lead in the 22nd minute at the Estadio de Bata but miscued his finish wide from penalty-spot distance.
It proved a key moment with Equatorial Guinea uoyed by reaching halftime level, and Iban Iyanga headed his team in front in the 62nd minute.
Nonetheless, Senegal coach Amara Traore refused to question his players' focus after the loss.
"We prepared very well for this game and we had many opportunities,'' he said. "We were just unlucky. I am very happy for my players, they gave everything.''
While Ba will return to his club assured of a coveted profile and big pay checks, Equatorial Guinea's players are making the most of cup fever.
"It is an important victory. Today is an historic day in the life of this country,'' Equatorial Guinea captain Juvenal Edjogo-Owono said. "The fans are very excited and I am very proud to be part of this piece of history.''
Unlike most of Senegal's players, Edjogo-Owono will return to a modest career in the Spanish second tier when the tournament finishes. His teammates, most of them born outside Equatorial Guinea, have similarly low-key backgrounds at clubs in leagues as far afield as Brazil, Oman and Turkey.
That perhaps explains why the Equatorial Guinea players are making the most of their moment in the limelight, while nothing seemed to go right for Senegal.
After days of bright sunshine, a tropical downpour caused the pitch to become waterlogged before the match against Equatorial Guinea, forcing the start to be delayed by more than an hour.
The torrential rain left a sodden surface that was unhelpful to the fast, attacking football favored by Senegal's pacy forwards. Niang said that forced a move to unusually direct tactics.
"We tried to put the ball in the opposing half and then support to find chances,'' he said. "I think that was pretty successful, but then you have to score and we didn't know how to do that.''
Now Senegal's only objective is to salvage some pride against Libya in its final match.
"We will try to play as hard as we can and beat Libya, for our honor, for our pride,'' Niang said.