Eq. Guinea into African Cup semis after contentious penalty
BATA, Equatorial Guinea (AP) — Host Equatorial Guinea benefited from a hotly disputed penalty in the last minute of normal time to go on and beat a furious Tunisian team 2-1 in extra time of a chaotic African Cup quarterfinal on Saturday.
Mauritian referee Rajindraparsad Seechurn ruled that Ivan Bolado was fouled in the 90th minute with Equatorial Guinea trailing 1-0, and on the way out of its home tournament. It looked like a clear dive from Bolado with no contact made. It sparked fury from the Tunisians.
Javier Balboa scored from the spot-kick deep into stoppage time, but only after players and coaching staff from both teams confronted each other in ugly scenes on the sidelines, with plastic bottles also thrown from the crowd at both dugouts. Riot police moved in to restore order during the game and then had to whisk Seechurn away at the end as he was chased by angry Tunisian players, who aimed punches and kicks at him as he sprinted toward the tunnel with his police escort.
While Balboa’s penalty was highly contentious, he also curled in a brilliant free kick in the 12th minute of extra time to send Equatorial Guinea to the African Cup semifinals for the first time — and the 35,000-strong home crowd into crazed celebrations.
The penalty was the turning point, though, and Seechurn’s decision caused the problems. The two camps clashed on more than one occasion in front of the dugouts after it was awarded, with substitute players and coaching staff pushing and grappling with each other and shouting insults. Both head coaches were involved.
“It’s difficult to accept,” Tunisia coach Georges Leekens said of the penalty, his voice rising in anger. “In 30 years (in football), I have a lot of experiences ... but this I can’t accept.”
Leekens called the decision by the referee that helped the home team out “forced.”
“It’s a shame. It’s a shame ... it’s an injustice,” he said.
Tunisian players also completely lost their control after the penalty by kicking, tripping and pushing Equatorial Guinea players, both in tackles and in off-the-ball incidents behind the referee’s back.
They had been goaded when one of the Equatorial Guinea players did a little dance in the middle of the field after the penalty went in, and also by two fans who ran onto the field unchallenged to celebrate the equalizer.
At the final whistle, there was more trouble. The Tunisians surrounded and pushed and shoved Seechurn, then chased him across the field and toward the tunnel as riot police and yellow-jacketed security tried desperately to protect the official.
Tunisia silenced the stadium in the 70th minute when Ahmed Akaichi flicked in at the near post after a perfect first-time cross by Hamza Mathlouthi for a 1-0 lead.
Mathlouthi was the Tunisian to give away the penalty at the death, though, when Seechurn decided he tripped Bolado.
“It was a normal penalty,” Equatorial Guinea coach Esteban Becker said. “In the last minute as in any other minute.”
Becker added: “At this moment, I’m the happiest man in the world.”
It took minutes to restore calm after the penalty was awarded, but Balboa kept his head to sweep the ball into the bottom left corner. He then curled his free kick brilliantly into the top right corner in extra time.
“I wish good luck for (Equatorial) Guinea but we don’t deserve to go out,” Leekens said. “Not in this way.”
Equatorial Guinea will play the winner of Sunday’s quarterfinal between Ghana and Guinea.