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AFCON 2015 Quarter-Finals: Tunisia stunned by hosts
Tunisia are left steaming after suffering a controversial 2-1 loss to hosts Equatorial Guinea.
In a match littered with controversies and flaring tempers, Equatorial Guinea move on to the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations semi-finals for the first in the team’s history after defeating Tunisia 2-1 in extra time.
The Carthage Eagles seemed certain that Ahmed Akaïchi’s opening goal in the 70th minute would surely put them through to the next round of the tournament, but a questionable penalty decision saw Equatorial Guinea equalize in the 90th minute.
During extra time, and with the moment going in favor of Nzalang Nacional, Javier Balboa sent a curving free-kick past Tunisian goalkeeper Aymen Mathlouthi to notch the game-winner.
Tunisia (4-4-3): Mathlouthi, Youssef, Abdennour, Ragued, Chikhaoui, Maaloul, Sassi, Mathlouthi, Khazri, Akachï, Yakoubi.
Equatorial Guinea (4-4-2): Ovono, Gomez, Mangue, Travieso, Bosio, Lopez, Balboa, Aquerico, Viera, Esono.
Throughout the first half, Tunisia demonstrated their ability to out perform their opponents physically and technically as they controlled the ball and kept Equatorial Guinea bottled up in the defensive zone. Despite having a number of chances to go ahead, including a running header that Ferjani Sassi sent wide and a few close chance for Equatorial Guinea, the score remained level going into the second half.
Tunisia also was called for a questionable offsides that would have sent Akaïchi in alone against Equatoguinean goalkeeper Felipe Ovono.
Throughout much of the second half, the Carthage Eagles maintained their first half stamina but found trouble besting Ovono despite testing him on a number of occasions. In the 70th minute, Tunisia’s offensive persistence put them up 1-0 when Hamza Mathlouthi was able get himself free down the right side to hook a cross in that found Ahmed Akaïchi who scored his third goal of the tournament on a tight angle.
Immediately following the opening goal, tempers began to flare between the two teams, and Mauritian referee Rajindraparsad Seechurn was forced to shut down the first of several pushing scrums by each side.
In the final minutes of match, Seechurn made a shocking decision to award Iván Bolado a penalty kick after being pressured from Hamza Mathlouthi from behind. It appeared that Mathlouthi made some contact with the Spanish-born striker, but replays showed Bolado embellish the contact as he threw himself to the ground.
Thousands of local fans who poured into Estadio de Bata stood anxiously as Javier Balboa set up to take the penalty against Mathlouthi after the 90th minute. With no mistake, Balboa slotted a low shot into the left side of the net, as the stadium erupted.
Tunisia appeared to be deflated after the equalizer going into extra time and were sluggish to the ball as the National Thunder continued to press with the support of an awakened crowd. In the 102nd minute of extra time, all of Tunisia’s hopes began to unwind.
After slipping past a few challenges outside of the 18-yard box, Balboa was able to win a threateningly close free-kick for the host nation. In a stunning effort from roughly 20 yards out, the 29-year-old winger bent a nearly unstoppable free-kick over the wall and into the top right corner, giving the host nation a 2-1 edge that would remain the final score.
In a now or never effort, the Carthage Eagles were simply not able to get past Ovono, who stood firmly even though he was treated by medical staff on three separate occasions.
With two minutes given in stoppage time, another scuffle erupted when a Tunisian free throw went out near the Equitorial Guinea bench. At roughly one minute and 50 seconds, the referee blew the final whistle, sending Tunisian players into yet another ugly exchange between match officials and fans. It was reported by the BBC that fans and Tunisian players hurled bottles at one another as The Carthage Eagles left the pitch with their AFCON 2015 hopes over.
Equitorial Guinea are ranked 118th in the world and were eliminated in the AFCON qualifiers. After replacing Morocco following their disqualification from the tournament, they were given entry to the tournament. Headed by Argentinian coach, Esteban Becker, the team will move on to face the winner of tomorrow’s match between Ghana and Guinea.
Correction: Rajindraparsad Seechurn, the referee who oversaw the match, is from Mauritius not Mauritania.