BATA, Equatorial Guinea (Reuters) – African football hit dizzying heights before descending into violent farce on Saturday with the referee attacked after tiny Equatorial Guinea shocked Tunisia in a controversy-mired African Nations Cup quarter-final.
A stunning opening tie between the two Congos, which produced six goals at Estadio de Bata, set up an evening of much promise, but the on-field drama of the second quarter-final was overshadowed by ugly scenes as the referee was punched and kicked by incensed Tunisian players.
They were livid with perceived referee injustice after Equatorial Guinea, one of the continent’s smallest countries and emer-gency hosts of the tournament, produced one of the great upsets in Nations Cup his-tory by claiming a 2-1 win after extra time.
They moved into the last four with Democratic Republic of Congo, who came from two goals down to beat northern neighbours Congo 4-2 in a sparkling first quarter-final.
But Equatorial Guinea’s win was clouded by the manner of their victory and the violent reaction of the Tunisians, who were runaway favourites against a motley collection of mostly lower league players from Spain and looked to be on course when they broke the deadlock on 70 minutes.
But Ahmed Akaichi’s goal was cancelled out in stoppage time as the home side were handed a soft penalty by Mauritius referee Seechurn Rajindraparsad, which was converted by Javier Balboa.
It came at the end of a niggling match that descended further into an abyss as the rival benches threw bottles of water at each other and traded insults before embarking on a full out a brawl just before the end of the game.
By that stage Equatorial Guinea had taken a 2-1 lead after a stunning 102nd minute free kick from Balboa, a former Real Madrid junior.
Clashes on the sideline were matched by continuing spats on the pitch and when the final whistle sounded the referee was rushed off the field by a police escort, but not before being chased by Tunisian players who kicked and punched at him.
Heavy sanctions are likely to follow.
It all contrasted starkly with the superb drama of the opening game where Dieumerci Mbokani scored twice to lead a thrilling come back for DR Congo.
Ferebory Dore opened the scoring in the 55th minute and Thievy Bifouma made it two seven minutes later but DR Congo roared back, scoring four times in the last 25 minutes.
Mbokani opened and finished the scoring, with Jeremy Bokila and Joel Kimwaki adding the second and third goals to send DR Congo into the last four for the first time since 1998.
They will meet either the Ivory Coast or Algeria in Bata in Wednesday’s semi-final.
Equatorial Guinea will next play in Malabo on Thursday against either Ghana or Guinea.