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Equatorial Guinea’s Ben Konate, left, and Thierry Fidjeu train at Bata Stadium, which will host the opening ceremony.
Equatorial Guinea’s Ben Konate, left, and Thierry Fidjeu train at Bata Stadium, which will host the opening ceremony.

The African teams are ready for first day

Equatorial Guinea promised a $1 million bonus if they win the opener against Libya, the match is followed by Senegal versus Zambia in Group A double-header.

BATA, Equatorial Guinea // Neither Equatorial Guinea nor Libya will lack for incentive when they open the African Cup of Nations today.

Senegal face Zambia in the same 37,500-capacity Bata Stadium in the Group A double-header.

Equatorial Guinea's squad have been promised a share of a US$1 million (Dh3.67m) win bonus for the opening match, but they have injury doubts over the mainstay striker Rodolfo Bodipo.

Bodipo, who plays with the Spanish second-tier club Deportivo La Coruna, said his left ankle was injured in a warm-up match against South Africa, but he hopes to be available for his team's first match in an African Cup.

The team ranked No 151st by Fifa had a fractured build-up after the experienced French coach Henri Michel resigned just weeks ago.

That left Gilson Paulo, the Brazilian replacement, with little time to get to know his squad.

"The Equatorial Guinea people are very passionate for football and we will be hoping to give them a good result in the first game so they can relax and enjoy the tournament," Paulo said. "We will be trying to put on a good, strong show, but it has to be realised that the preparation time was short."

Libya experienced civil war last year, and their football side hope to bring some joy to their compatriots with a strong showing in the continent's premier tournament.

"The key of qualifying is always the first game," said Marcos Paqueta, Libya's Brazilian coach. "Libya and Equatorial Guinea are in third and fourth position, if we rank the group. Senegal and Zambia are favourites, so the first game is the key game for us."

He said Libya's players had extra motivation to do well.

"This is one of the best moments we have been through with the Libyan national team," he said. "It was a very difficult year not just for the national team but for all the Libyan people. All the players are conscious this is a good opportunity to bring some joy to the Libyan people, who deserve that after all they have been through."

Zambia also had a crisis with their preparations when Herve Renard, the coach, criticised the facilities at the team hotel and the players moved to a second location.

Renard said Zambia could benefit from their underdog status.

"A lot of players and coaches would like to be in our place," he said. "There's no stress for us. When we go to the pitch, we will look at our opponent, we know them because they are playing in the Champions League, but we will say, 'We want to beat you.'

"You can create a big surprise. You just have to fight for your flag, for your colours," he added. "This is very important. You are feeling something different when you are in Africa - it's a fantastic tournament."

The hopes of Senegal, one of the tournament favourites, rest on a star-studded attack led by the Newcastle United striker Demba Ba and the Lille forward Moussa Sow.

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