Following on from one epic Quarter-Final encounter between the two respective Congolese sides, the Estadio de Bata would now see the hosts Equatorial Guinea take on the much-fancied Tunisian Carthage Eagles in what promised to be another nail-biter for the home crowd, up against their strongest opposition yet, but riding on the crest of an unexpected run in a competition they were so nearly not a part of, who would bet against the National Thunder. Both teams come into the match unbeaten with identical records of a win and two draws apiece, but on yet another humid evening in Bata a winner would be found tonight, a winner that would go on to face the winner of Ghana or Guinea in the Semi-Finals.
The crowd would again witness a first half lacking in cutting edge play, much of the first forty five minutes spent with either side unable to keep possession for any length of time resulting in a lack of chances at either end. Tunisia would perhaps be expected to be the more dominant of the sides, if only for their FIFA ranking, 96 places ahead of Equatorial Guinea. But the hosts have shown themselves to be somewhat of a surprise package in recent times, this being their second Quarter-Finals appearances, albeit both on home soil, but their defeat three years ago at this stage to Cote d’Ivoire was still seen as a success. There was very little to separate the sides in this fixture though, Tunisia perhaps showing more quality in their play, Ahmed Akaichi and Yassine Chikhaoui looking dangerous on occasion as they did throughout group play. And it was Akaichi on hand to score the opening goal of the game in the 70th minute, finishing a quality move with a close range finish, a deserved goal for the Esperance de Tunis striker, having moments earlier forced a fantastic save from goalkeeper Felipe Onovo. The goal was unable to silence the fervent crowd though, a fantastic atmosphere in the Estadio de Bata, spurning their team on to search for an equaliser. It seemed that this was not to be the National Thunders’ night though, Emilio Nsue having a gilt-edged chance brilliantly saved by Aymen Mathlouthi between the Tunisia posts after a sublime through ball from substitute Iban. But deep into stoppage time came an incident of huge controversy, Ivan Bolado going to ground in the Tunisian box, referee Rajindraparsad Seechum of the Seychelles having no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Replays suggested his to be somewhat of a harsh decision, Bolado seeming to step on the foot of defender Ali Maaloul. With the nations hopes and reams resting on his shoulders, Javier Balboa stepped up to equalise without a hint of nerves, sending Mathlouthi the wrong way and ensuring a further thirty minutes of play, the first extra-time period of play in the competition.
The gap in quality of the teams had become less evident as the game wore on, Equatorial Guinea improving as the game went on, more so throughout extra-time, always looking like the side most likely to sneak a winner. The first half of extra time saw them take a deserved lead, Balboa again the scorer, this time with a free-kick worthy of winning any game, showing fantastic technique to get the ball over the wall into the top right hand corner of the goal. It had threatened to happen at the end of the 90 minutes but Tunisia now seemed to lose all composure, discipline becoming an issue and the crisp passing play from earlier in the game now a distant memory as long ball after long ball was punted up the field to no avail. Two one is how it remained and what should have been a remembered as a remarkable evening in Africa Cup of Nations history was sullied by ugly scenes at the final whistle. Security needed to intervene to separate the two sets of players and officials, referee Seechurn also being hounded down the tunnel by Tunisian players, there will surely be a fall-out from what seemed to be unacceptable behaviour regardless of the contentious nature of the penalty given. Now it’s on to the semi-finals for Equatorial Guinea, a side at the start of November were not even scheduled to be playing at the competition and with the run they are on is a first time AFCoN cup final appearance possible, surely a question the players and fans will be asking themselves.