Nsue: The international footballer who never was

football06 June 2024 09:33| © Mzansi Football

The case of Equatorial Guinea striker Emilio Nsue may go down as one of the strangest in African football history, a player who excelled for his country and became their all-time leading goalscorer and won a Golden Boot at an Africa Cup of Nations finals … but was never eligible to feature for them.

Nsue was handed a six-month ban from competing for any national team in May, and declared ineligible for Equatorial Guinea for the second time, just months after he had finished as the leading scorer at the Cup of Nations in Ivory Coast.

You have to go back 11 years to understand why the 34-year-old, who played mostly as a right-back for Spanish lower league side Intercity but as a forward for his national team, has fallen foul of authorities.

Nsue is a former Spanish junior international who was born on the island of Mallorca to an Equatorial Guinean father and a Spanish mother.

He made his debut for the Central African nation in 2013, but there was immediately trouble.

Fifa declared that he was not eligible because he had played 26 times for the Spanish junior teams and had not yet sought permission from the global governing body to make the switch of nationalities.

He netted on debut for Equatorial Guinea against Benin in March 2013 and later got a hat-trick as his side defeated Cape Verde 4-3 in a 2014 World Cup qualifier.

That match, and a return fixture with Cape Verde, were handed to their opponents 3-0 as Nsue was declared ineligible by Fifa due to his Spanish junior national team past.

In fact, Fifa informed The Equatorial Guinea Football Association (FEGUIFOOT) on 18 December, 2013 that the player would not be eligible for the country. Case closed.

But Nsue and FEGUIFOOT pushed on, and he was selected for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations finals, where he helped Equatorial Guinea to fourth place.

He played in qualifiers for the 2017, 2019, 2021 and 2023 Africa Cup of Nations, and at the 2021 and 2023 finals.

And then the kicker. He also featured, without sanction from Fifa, in the preliminary competition for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

How that was allowed by the governing body we may never know and can only assume it was an oversight on their behalf.

Perhaps his Golden Boot award at the Cup of Nations earlier this year brought him back to the attention of authorities, because suddenly his participation in the 2026 World Cup qualifiers in November last year came under review.

He scored the winning goals in victories over Namibia and Liberia, which have both since been awarded to their opponents 3-0, leaving Equatorial Guinea on the back foot in the pool.

But why Fifa did not act against him sooner or alert the Confederation of African Football (CAF), shall remain a mystery.

Nsue has won 42 caps for Equatorial Guinea, all illegally, and scored a national team record 23 goals.

A player who spent 11 years in international football, playing in high-profile competitions, when all this time he was ineligible.

Nsue can appeal the Fifa decision, but it seems a watertight case against him, and he is the international footballer who never was.