Neither Equatorial Guinea nor Libya will lack for incentive when they open the African Cup of Nations on Saturday.
Straight afterwards, Senegal face Zambia in the same 37,500-capacity Bata Stadium in the Group A doubleheader.
Equatorial Guinea’s squad has been promised a share of a $1 million win bonus for the opening match, but has injury doubts over mainstay striker Rodolfo Bodipo.
Bodipo, who plays with Spanish second-tier club Deportivo La Coruna, said he picked up a knock on his left ankle in a warmup match against South Africa but hoped to be available for his team’s first ever match at the African Cup.
The No. 151-ranked team had a fractured buildup after experienced French coach Henri Michel resigned just weeks ago.
That left Brazilian replacement Gilson Paulo 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 realized that the preparation time was short.”
Libya is determined to cap a year in which Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown with success at the continent’s showpiece tournament.
“The key of qualifying is always the first game,” said Libya’s Brazilian coach Marcos Paqueta. “Libya and Equatorial Guinea are in third and fourth position if we rank the group. Senegal and Zambia are favorites, so the first game is the key game for us.”
Paqueta said Libya’s players were aware of the 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 its preparations when the players were forced to move from the hotel they were staying in just two days before its first game after coach Herve Renard criticized the facilities.
“The first hotel we got was not of the standing of the Africa Cup of Nations — I think people have to have respect for the Zambian national team,” Renard said. “It’s not our first qualification. … Maybe we are not the best, maybe we are not a team with a big name, but we deserve respect.”
The hopes of Senegal, one of the tournament favorites, rest on a star-studded attack led by Newcastle United striker Demba Ba and Lille forward Moussa Sow.