The people of Guinea have endured tough times since the Ebola epidemic of March 2014 that led to several hundred deaths, a state of emergency being declared and the borders being closed. Football was also affected, with club and national team matches being moved to neighbouring countries like Morocco.
Guinea have taken part in ten Africa Cup of Nations tournaments and even reached the final back in 1976, but they are yet to grace the final stage of the FIFA World Cup™. With the Guinean squad currently gearing up to begin African Zone qualifying in one of the most evenly-contested groups alongside Tunisia, Congo DR and Libya, FIFA.com interviewed the Guinean international Boubacar Fofana about his country’s chances of qualifying for the showcase event.
“Our group is very open, but Tunisia remain the favourites,” Fofana said. “Congo DR are a strong African team. I don’t know much about Libya but they clearly have great potential otherwise they wouldn’t have reached this stage of the competition.”
Guinea begin with a tough-looking trip to Tunisia, and Fofana believes that a positive result is entirely possible: “All the matches will be hard, but the first one is particularly tricky,” he said. “Our opponents are the favourites, but we’ll be doing everything we can to come back from Tunisia with the three points.
“Guinea is one of the best African teams in terms of pure talent. We’ll also have our part to play in this group and I think it’ll be a fierce battle to secure the place at Russia 2018."
There's no place like home
Fofana is clearly aware of the importance of getting off to a good start, but he is also adamant that it is just as crucial for Guinea to win at home, in front of their own support: “The home team always has an advantage thanks to the fans’ backing; they often play a huge role,” he said. “We mustn’t forget that all the teams are strong and that any match could turn out to be a surprise. Playing at home doesn’t mean that victory is guaranteed, particularly against Congo DR. We’ll approach every match with the intention of winning, whether it be away or at home.”
North African teams traditionally struggle against Guinea, and Fofana has his own theory as to why this is the case: “Guinea has talented players who work as a unit. That’s what poses a problem for the North African teams. Tunisia are therefore going to have their work cut out in the first round of qualifying matches,” he said.
“The national team players and the entire Guinean population dream of qualifying for the World Cup, the greatest football competition in the world,” he said. “Whoever the opposition and whatever the circumstances, we’re going to do everything we can to take our chance.”
Casting an eye around Africa
Fofana is an experienced player for whom African football holds no secrets and he was happy to give us his verdict on the other groups: “The pool with Cameroon, Nigeria, Algeria and Zambia is the toughest. You could call it a ‘group of death’ because there are three teams in there who have all taken part in the last two World Cups, and you mustn’t forget that Zambia won the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations. Their players are quick and never give up until the final whistle, so they can’t be written off,” he said.
“Group B is one of the hardest in this stage of qualifying. Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Mali and Morocco could all make it through. I think the team that wins the big matches will ensure their place. At this level, you can’t let any important points escape.”
Fofana also spoke about the respective chances of Burkina Faso, Cape Verde Islands, Senegal and South Africa: “This is a very open group and each team will do their utmost right to the very end. It’s impossible to predict who will win a group like this one.”
Fofana concluded his prediction game with the pool made up of Uganda, Egypt, Ghana and Congo: “It looks very even to me; the hardest thing is that ultimately only one team can qualify,” he said.
“We’re going to see passionate matches between the 20 teams that are still competing," concluded Fofana. "Those who make the fewest errors and accrue the most points will qualify for Russia 2018.”