Guinea-Bissau eye back-to-back finals

Guinea-Bissau celebrate scoring against Cameroon at the 2017 Nations Cup
Guinea-Bissau celebrate scoring against Cameroon at the 2017 Nations Cup

Guinea-Bissau's maiden participation at this year's Africa Cup of Nations has provided the platform for future qualifications, says the country's football federation president.

Against all odds, the west African nation contested Gabon 2017 - despite having won a total of just four competitive qualifiers in their history prior to the tournament.

"When we called people to the national team before, many said they weren't coming - because we never qualify," Manuel Nascimento told BBC Sport.

"Since we qualified, those playing in England, Portugal, France are all now ready to come and join our national team.

"This is going to bring good results because uniting people brings only good results."

One of the world's poorest countries, Guinea-Bissau made light of political instability, poor sports infrastructure and a disastrous qualifying record to edge out 2012 champions Zambia, Kenya and Congo in Group E.

Manuel Nascimento
Manuel Nascimento is optimistic about the future for Guinea-Bissau's national team

Home-and-away victories over Kenya paved the way before a stunning 3-2 home victory over Zambia in June 2016 - despite a player strike over allowances in the run-up and with a 96th-minute winner - achieved the most unlikely of qualifications.

"I can tell you we worked very hard and as I always say, things are difficult but not impossible," Nascimento added.

"When I arrived at the federation for the first time, I said I would take Guinea-Bissau to the Nations Cup. Those that didn't believe said I was crazy and that I didn't know what I was talking about.

"Later they came to apologise and to say I did something good, and I will continue to do it as long as I am president of the federation."

That is a moot point since Nascimento told the BBC last week that he would resign if then Confederation of African Football president Issa Hayatou failed to win re-election in Addis Ababa. He didn't but Nascimento has stayed.

Breaking new ground
Guinea-Bissau had never been in the Top 100 of Fifa's rankings before their Nations Cup qualification. Last year, they reached a high of 68th - but have since dropped to 80th, one spot above three-time World Cup qualifiers Norway

At the Nations Cup itself, Guinea-Bissau picked up a point against hosts Gabon in the opening game of the tournament - with an injury-time goal earning a 1-1 draw - before suffering narrow defeats to eventual champions Cameroon (1-2) and semi-finalists Burkina Faso (0-2).

Nascimento says the quality in a side largely made up of players from Portugal's lower-tier sides, and which includes several former Portugal youth internationals, is such that the team nicknamed the Djurtus (Wild Dogs) should be going even further.

"I always said Guinea-Bissau should be in the quarter-finals given the talents we have but one thing caused us not to reach that moment of glory - a lack of experience," said Nascimento, before asserting that his side will qualify for the 2019 finals.

"I can guarantee you that at the next tournament in Cameroon, in 2019, you will see our perfection, talent and (improved) results.

"After repairing the mistakes that we made in Gabon, you will see us differently. We will be more courageous, with more energy, perfection and creativity. We are looking to challenge the big teams - because we have to dream."

Locals say a three-day party ensued for three days following the historic Nations Cup qualification - while the opening draw against Gabon sparked wild celebrations and, also, tragedy.

"The day we succeeded to score against Gabon, four people died," said Nascimento. "They were happy but weren't in control and suffered accidents which led to their deaths."

Did you know?
Portugal striker Eder, who scored the goal that won the 2016 European Championship, is from Guinea-Bissau, having been born in the capital Bissau (in 1987)

On Saturday, Guinea-Bissau play their first game since the finals - a friendly against South Africa in Durban - which Nascimento says he is largely funding out of his own pocket since the government lacks the funds to send the team across the continent.

And on the question of money, he is hoping that increased funds from football's world governing body Fifa may help improve what Nascimento describes as limited infrastructure.

"I have to be sincere - our facilities are very poor," he freely admits.

"We only have two stadiums. The other 'stadiums' are just normal fields. Now we need to create more constructive cooperation to see exactly what Fifa can do for us.

"We are going to play South Africa now and after that, we will plan some more."

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