Ibán Salvador is the dazzling star of Equatorial Guinea’s underdogs at the Africa Cup of Nations.
Bright pink hair, tattoos everywhere – and the reputation of a “rascal”: Ibán Salvador stands out. But the 26-year-old does not only stand out visually on the pitch. Emerged from the depths of the second Spanish division, he is shaking up the Africa Cup of Nations with the blatant outsider Equatorial Guinea and is fighting for a place in the semi-finals.
But who is the dazzling bird of paradise in the team number 114 in the world rankings? Well, until now that seemed to be a mystery to many opponents. “We don’t even know what position he’s playing in…left midfielder, defender…” Mali captain Hamari Traoré told AFP.
According to FC Fuenlabrada, Salvador is a player who “always gives his opponents a toothache”. The offensive player has been playing for the Spanish second division team since 2019, and his previous positions have also taken him across the Segunda División via Real Valladolid.
The experience helps him. In Africa, “football is very different from European football,” explained Salvador, whose maternal family comes from Equatorial Guinea: “There is more contact, the game is tougher, I’m used to that from the second division.”
Africa Cup of Nations: Will the underdog make it to the semi-finals?
Salvador, who was born in L’Hospitalet, Spain, doesn’t shy away from the big favorites at the Africa Cup of Nations: “We’re not afraid of anyone,” he announced on the Spanish radio station “RTVE” in the group phase – and he’s proven it several times: 1-0 against defending champions Algeria, 1-0 against Sierra Leone and most recently the victory in the round of 16 penalty kick thriller against world number 53 Mali (6-5).
Salvador has played a major role in Equatorial Guinea’s success story as a two-time Man of the Match. His reputation precedes him: Because “El Picaro”, the rascal, was often suspected in Spain of staging falls too theatrically after contact with the opponent.
His coach José Ramón Sandoval can’t understand it: “He suffers so many fouls, it’s pure hunting.” In any case, the Spanish newspaper AS attested to Salvador’s “great intelligence when it comes to making the game faster or quieter”. He is one of the players at Fuenlabrada “with the best technical skills”.
These also benefit Equatorial Guinea. For the selection of the country, which is home to around 1.2 million people, he made his debut at the Africa Cup of Nations in 2015 when the underdog even reached the semi-finals.
That should work this time too. On Sunday (8 p.m.) Equatorial Guinea meets Senegal again as outsiders. But the rascal with the pink hair is not afraid.