- Associated Press - Saturday, January 31, 2015

MALABO, Equatorial Guinea (AP) - Guinea won’t be able to rely on simple luck at the African Cup anymore.

The west African country, one of the three worst affected by the Ebola outbreak, won a drawing of lots this week to get its spot in the quarterfinals of the tournament. The national team will next face Ghana on Sunday.

“I can say we have luck and I can say we deserve it also,” Guinea captain Ibrahima Traore said Saturday. “Tomorrow is a big day for all Guinea, after all we’ve been through.”

In the other quarterfinal match later Sunday at Malabo Stadium, tournament favorite Ivory Coast will play Algeria. The Ivorians came into the tournament as one of the favorites, but Guinea’s path to the quarterfinals has become a fascinating tale.

The team was unable to host qualifying matches, instead playing home games in Morocco and away matches at opposing countries - in many cases getting frequent temperature checks to test for symptoms of Ebola. But the Guineans qualified despite the difficulties and the hardships, and they have played well through three draws in three matches in Equatorial Guinea.

“I was very impressed, not just because of football,” Ghana coach Avram Grant said of Guinea. “Their spirit is good. It’s not easy for this country. I have a lot of respect to them.”

The route to the quarterfinals wasn’t straightforward, however. After their third straight 1-1 draw, the Guineans and Malians were exactly tied for second place in Group D. To separate them, two green balls were put into a bowl on Thursday at a hotel in Malabo and the representative from Guinea chose the one that got them through.

“Sometimes you can say that when you work hard, you deserve the luck,” Guinea coach Michel Dussuyer said. “Of course we have been lucky with the draw, but before the draw we have fought very hard to reach this level.”

In qualifying, Guinea and Ghana were in the same group, so they have played twice recently. Ghana held Guinea to a 1-1 draw in Morocco before winning 3-1 at home.

The Ivory Coast came into the tournament as one of the favorites, mainly due to its star-filled starting lineup. With Yaya Toure and Wilfried Bony alone, the Ivorians may have the best two players at the competition.

But they started slowly in Equatorial Guinea, being held to 1-1 draws by both Guinea and Mali. It was only after a 1-0 victory over Cameroon in the final group match that Ivory Coast assured itself a spot in the quarterfinals.

“We are just thinking about victory,” Ivory Coast coach Herve Renard said. “We won’t be happy after the competition if we are in semifinals and we lose. Or even if we play the final. Because if you play one final - and you lose this final - it’s terrible.

“It will always come into your mind for the rest of your life.”


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