It means a lot: Guinea coach after reaching AFCON quarter-finals

Monday 29 Jan 2024

Mohamed Bayo headed in a dramatic winner in the eighth minute of injury time as Guinea beat 10-man Equatorial Guinea 1-0 on Sunday to advance to the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations.

Guinea s head coach Kaba Diawara looks on during the Africa Cup of Nations (CAN) 2024 round of 16 football match between Equatorial Guinea and Guinea at the Alassane Ouattara Stadium in Ebimpe, Abidjan, on January 28, 2024. AFP

The last-16 tie at the Ebimpe Olympic Stadium in Abidjan was heading for extra time when Bayo, of French Ligue 1 side Le Havre, struck right at the death to spark frenzied scenes of celebration among the Guinea team and their large support.

It was a historic moment for the Syli National, who had never previously won a Cup of Nations knockout tie -- they were runners-up in 1976, in an era when the final four played a round-robin format to decide the winner of the trophy.

They will now stay in Abidjan for a last-eight tie on Friday against the winner of Sunday's other game between Egypt and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"It means a lot. We knew that this could be a historic occasion," said Guinea coach Kaba Diawara, who was in tears at the final whistle.

"Even if the way we did it was not beautiful, even if we did it in the last minute, we don't care. Winning is the only thing that matters."

But Equatorial Guinea, who had midfielder Federico Bikoro sent off in the 55th minute, will wonder what might have been had captain Emilio Nsue not squandered a penalty midway through the second half.

Their players slumped to the turf at the end while Guinea celebrated with their noisy support in a crowd of 36,340, as Abidjan's sizeable Guinean community turned out in force for the occasion.

Guinea had appeared to be handicapped by Diawara's decision to leave prolific VfB Stuttgart striker Serhou Guirassy -– scorer of 17 goals in the German Bundesliga this season -– on the bench at kick-off, with ex-Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita also dropping out.

Guirassy had missed Guinea's first two group games and was replaced again here by Bayo.

The tie only came to life in the second half, with Guinea midfielder Mory Konate heading in a free-kick in the 53rd minute only for the goal to be disallowed for offside.

Moments later came the red card, with Tunisia-based Bikoro being dismissed for a reckless follow-through that saw him plant his studs into Bayo's abdomen.

Guirassy was then introduced, but it was the 10 men of Equatorial Guinea who won a penalty on 67 minutes.

The Somalian referee was summoned to the pitchside monitor after Iban Edu went down under Sekou Sylla's challenge as he tried to connect with a Pablo Ganet free-kick.

A spot-kick was duly awarded, but the competition's top scorer Nsue could not take the chance to net his sixth goal of this AFCON, sending his penalty against the post and wide.

It was to prove crucial, as Guinea instead made the extra man count by scoring right at the end of injury time when Bayo strained his neck to head in a cross by the impressive Ibrahim Diakite.

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