30.01.2015 09:01 h

Hosts target semis as Congos collide

Hosts Equatorial Guinea are hoping the decision to relocate Saturday's Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final against Tunisia to Bata gives them the edge over the Carthage Eagles.

The Nzalang Nacional were initially due to tackle Tunisia in Ebebiyin, more than 200 kilometres by road inland from Bata, before tournament organisers moved it to the port city, citing concerns over the pitch.

However, there is little doubt that the tiny 5,000-seat stadium in Ebebiyin would have been overrun had the game gone ahead there rather than in the 35,000-capacity Estadio de Bata.

The red-clad local fans will be eager to see Equatorial Guinea make history by reaching the last four for the first time after they were trounced 3-0 by the Ivory Coast in Malabo at the same stage of the competition three years ago.

And Tunisia coach Georges Leekens knows that the noisy Equatorial Guinea support will create an intimidating atmosphere for his side on Saturday.

"It will be difficult for us especially with their fans behind them, but I am positive in all circumstances," said the Belgian.

"They have a balanced team and are so fast in attack. They have posted a fantastic performance beyond most expectations."

Nzalang Nacional have yet to lose in Bata and their current side have exceeded expectations after a chaotic build-up that included the appointment of a new coach, Esteban Becker, 10 days before their first match against Congo Brazzaville, as well as a clear-out of naturalised South American players.

"We now have a side made up 100 percent of players from Equatorial Guinea who are willing to defend the colours of their country," said Argentine coach Becker.

Goalkeeper Felipe Ovono, from semi-professional local side DVO Mongomo has impressed in the home team's splendid run, particularly against neighbours Gabon in a decisive final group game where he pulled off several crucial saves.

Defender Diosdado Mbele has served out a one-match suspension and could return to the starting line-up in place of Estonia-based Daniel Evuy, while the towering Raul Fabiani Bosio could start again up front.

The Carthage Eagles of Tunisia were champions on home soil in 2004, but they have not gone past the quarter-finals since.

Skipper Yassine Chikaoui has shone at this tournament playing alongside the dangerous Esperance striker Ahmed Akaichi, while Leekens has stuck with a defence led by experienced Etoile du Sahel goalkeeper Aymen Mathlouti and Monaco ace Aymen Abdennour.

The first quarter-final between DR Congo and Congo Brazzaville will be the first meeting between the two neighbours in 41 years when Congo Brazzaville beat DRC (then Zaire) 2-1 in Alexandria, Egypt.

Claude Le Roy's Congo are living a charmed life, having been reinstated in the competition only after Rwanda were disqualified for fielding an ineligible player.

The Red Devils then qualified for the finals ahead of champions Nigeria and finished top of Group A after a 15-year absence from the tournament.

Le Roy has maintained his "incredible" team will keep their feet on the ground and take it a game at a time.

On Saturday, DRC will be without injured skipper Youssouf Mulumbu, who also missed the final group game against Tunisia with a hamstring injury.

They came through the group phase with three draws and will need to start firing more goals if they were to stay in contention.

"Firstly, we qualified with a lot of difficulties as we as were the 16th team to get here. Everybody thought we would be eliminated but we are still here," said coach Florent Ibenge.

"They have a good team with a good and experienced coach. We just hope we don't go behind and have to chase the game as we did against Tunisia."