Victory over stunned Senegal on Wednesday before an expected 35,000 sell-out crowd at the Estadio de Bata and a win or draw for Zambia against Libya in the first half of a double-header would give the co-hosts a last-eight place.
The unexpected scenario arises because former Real Madrid midfielder Javier Balboa scored three minutes from full-time to give a country ranked 41 on the continent a 1-0 victory over Libya.
Zambia shocked Senegal 2-1 in a match that finished after midnight at the same venue, leaving third favourites Teranga Lions to tend deep wounds while coach Amara Traore rethinks his Group A strategy.
Equatorial Guinea have not sailed smoothly into their first Cup of Nations with Brazilian coach Gilson Paulo taking over less than three weeks before the kick-off after Frenchman Henri Michel quit citing “interference”.
Naturalised goalkeeper Danilo from Brazil, defenders Lawrence Doe from Liberia and Fousseny Kamisoko from Ivory Coast and midfielder Thierry Fidjeu from Cameroon had to endure “mercenary” taunts from sections of the media.
And an ankle injury sustained in a warm-up against South Africa prevented captain and striker Rodolfo Bodipo starting against the Libyans, although he came on as a late substitute.
Stand-in skipper Juvenal Edjogo believes the opening-match victory can inspire the National Lightning to more success in a competiton where every co-host has made the knockout stage since Tunisia flopped 18 years ago.
“It was so important for us to begin the competition with a win and the future is looking bright,” said the slightly-built midfielder from Spanish second-tier club Sabadell.
Senegal entered the Cup of Nations ranked five in Africa, third favourites behind Ivory Coast and Ghana with the bookmakers, and boasting a wealth of star strikers like Demba Ba, Moussa Sow, Papiss Cisse and captain Mamadou Niang.
“We must go back to fundamentals like passing, working together and being aggressive,” said Traore. “We still have a chance to go through and losing to Zambia changes nothing.”
But the loss stunned veteran Niang, who was substituted at half-time, and he could face the axe after being relegated to the ‘B’ team for a post-Zambia practice session.
“We must forget that terrible setback and focus on our next match against Equatorial Guinea — if we win that we are back on track for the knockout stages,” said the 32-year-old, who plays for Asian champions Al-Sadd of Qatar.