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Afcon organisers hoping for rousing start

Fans are hoping Equatorial Guinea prove competitive when they meet Congo on Saturday.

 Equatorial Guinea’s national team poses for a picture during a visit of the Bata stadium in Bata, Equatorial Guinea, on January 16. Picture: AFP

MILAN - Home fans, and the competition organisers, will be hoping Equatorial Guinea prove competitive and ensure a rousing start to the African Cup of Nations finals when they meet Congo in the opening game on Saturday.

The tiny central African country stepped in two months ago to take over as hosts after Morocco pulled out and have had only weeks to prepare for the three-week, 16-team tournament.

Equatorial Guinea have undergone extensive changes in personnel and uncertainty over their potential has been exacerbated by a change of coach three weeks before kickoff with Esteban Becker taking over from former Spain international Andoni Goikoetxea.

Opponents Congo play at the finals for the first time since 2000 but finished above defending champions Nigeria in qualifying, eliminating them in the process.

The match at the Estadio de Bata is followed by a second Group A encounter between Burkina Faso and Gabon, who will have extensive knowledge of each other's strengths and weaknesses after sharing the same qualifying group.

Gabon just edged Burkina Faso to top spot but the Burkinabe are high on confidence after finishing surprise runners-up at the last finals in 2013.