LIBREVILLE. — Guinea Bissau’s football team have settled a strike over unpaid wages, clearing the way for their debut appearance at the African Cup of Nations soccer finals in Gabon.
After the news emerged, thousands lined the streets of the capital of the tiny West African country to watch the squad parade by yesterday.
They meet hosts Gabon in the opening game in Libreville on Saturday, after a fairytale qualification for the three-week finals – one of the biggest shocks in Nations Cup history.
Their build-up was interrupted at the weekend when players went on strike over unpaid bonuses that had been promised them for qualifying. It was only settled after a delegation of three players went to see the country’s president, Jose Mario Vaz, Portuguese news agency Lusa reported.
They have since all been paid between 10 000 and 23 000 euros in outstanding fees, Lusa added.
“In the early hours of Sunday, the players received everything they had to receive,” a government spokesman told the agency.
A charter plane, borrowed from Congo Brazzaville, is due to fly the team to Libreville today.
The former Portuguese colony frequently beset by coups, eliminated former champions Congo and Zambia in qualifying last year.
They were a Leicester-like long shot when the qualifiers began, having only previously won four matches in Nations Cup and World Cup qualification combined since first entering international competition just 22 years ago.
Guinea-Bissau achieved one of the most remarkable qualifications in the 60-year-old African Cup of Nations by reaching the 2017 finals, and are plotting more shocks.The Djurtus (wild dogs) topped a group, ahead of former champions Congo Brazzaville and Zambia and Kenya, that they were considered certainties to prop up.
Like Botswana, Cape Verde and Niger earlier this decade, Guinea-Bissau mocked the form book with a star-less team to clinch a first Cup of Nations appearance.
The unexpected success has propelled the tiny nation from FIFA rankings obscurity to 15th in Africa and 68th in the world. They rose 78 places last year — more than any other country.
Now they are plotting the downfall of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang-inspired hosts Gabon in Libreville this weekend in the African football showcase opener.
Four-time champions Cameroon and 2013 runners-up Burkina Faso complete Group A and the top two finishers after a single-round mini-league book quarter-finals slots.Guinea-Bissau are the 150-1 title no-hopers among the quartet, according to international bookmakers, but 68-year-old coach Baciro Cande says he has more shocks in store.
“I want to make one thing very clear,” he stressed after a training session in the capital Bissau, “we are not going to Gabon for a holiday.
“My squad is composed of 23 proud professional footballers who are thinking only of bringing joy to the people of Guinea-Bissau.
“The best way to achieve that is by winning matches and qualifying for the quarter-finals in our Africa Cup debut.
“We eliminated former champions Congo and Zambia and can perform even better. The squad will work ceaselessly to achieve good results.” — AFP.