Malabo: Equatorial Guinea's domestic footballers will be able to swap their baggy shorts for the latest kit and train in ultra-modern facilities if the country's ambitious plans come to fruition.

The tiny, oil-rich nation, co-hosting the African Nations Cup with Gabon, wants the legacy to include a professional league and youth academies, although the lack of genuine fan culture could hinder progress.

The team, a modest 151st in the FIFA rankings, played their biggest game on Saturday when they faced favourites Ivory Coast in the quarter-finals. Yet many fans ambled into the stadium well after kick off and a large number left after Ivory Coast scored their second goal in a 3-0 win, in the 70th minute.

In other countries, a team which had exceeded expectations in such a spectacular manner could have expected a rousing send-off despite losing but the final whistle on Saturday was greeted with almost complete silence by the few remaining spectators.

Spanish-based team captain Juvenal Edjogo seemed as confused as anyone by the public reaction.

"Sincerely, I don't really know what people expected of us," he said. "At the start of the competition, nobody gave us any chance and everyone was completely pessimistic. Then, after we beat Libya and Senegal, there was complete and utter euphoria."

Organisers believe the future is bright, however, and plan to use government money to set up a professional league with foreign players.

"Thanks to the Nations Cup, football in Equatorial Guinea will change," Ruslan Obiang, chief executive of the country's Nations Cup organising committee (COCAN), said.

"Our players and our youngsters have first-hand experience of a continental competition, and they have seen what a high-level competition is really like. Equatorial Guinea had never participated at this level before, and the population enjoyed it, and this will help the youngsters and federation strengthen football here."


The national league is played only at amateur level and a training match between the Ivory Coast reserves and leading club Sony Ela Nguema suggested the facilities for local teams were less than ideal.

Several Nguema players were wearing kit which was several sizes too big for them and one substitute was taunted by the crowd because his shorts came down below his knees.

"We are studying the possibility of a professional league with the government and federation," said Obiang.

"The clubs are very small here and we don't have many teams, so the federation is negotiating with the government a possible subsidy for the teams to try to bring in players from other countries.

"If we can bring players from Cameroon and Angola and pay 3,000 euros a month, that will make the championship more attractive."

Obiang said that football at grass-roots level would be helped by the new facilities built for the tournament.

Malabo's new stadium is part of an impressive complex which includes a training pitch, used by club sides and the national women's team, swimming pool, tennis courts, hotel and gymnasium.

Conditions are very different in a township two kilometres away where players somehow managed to stage a game on a dirt, rubbish-strewn pitch with crooked goalposts.

"Thanks to the Nations Cup, we have infrastructure which did not exist before so, with the stadiums and training pitches we have built and with the success of the national team, this will help the youngsters start playing football," said Obiang.

One of the biggest challenges is to harvest local talent and Obiang said there were plans to set up football academies to coach young players.

In three of their four matches at the tournament, Equatorial Guinea fielded a starting line-up made up entirely of players born outside the country, which was unprecedented in international football.

Many of them, such as Edjogo, were born and raised in Spain and qualified to play through their parents, while others, such as Brazilian-born goalkeeper Danilo, were naturalised players.

"People think they are not from Guinea because they are mulattoes, but their mothers or fathers are Guineans," said Obiang.

"Equatorial Guinea is not the only country in the world which has naturalised players...They have made the difference for us, we would not have been able to do anything without them."

Obiang said the short-term goal was to qualify for next year's Nations Cup and give credible performances in the World Cup qualifiers.

"We have to try and qualify on our merits, not just because we are the host nation," he said. "This has been a great opportunity because we have seen close up what continental competition is all about."