So to the Nuevo Estadio de Malabo for the second semi-final and a place in the final against C’ote D’Ivoire to play for. Equatorial Guinea, even as host nation coming into the game as underdogs after a controversial Quarter-Final victory over Tunisia. The fall-out from that game continues, with referee Rajindraprasad Seechum picking up a six month suspension for his poor performance and a fine handed out to Tunisia for their reaction at the final whistle. That’s not to say the National Thunder have not been impressive on the pitch, looking every bit worth the final four side they have over-achieved to become. As we know, Equatorial Guinea’s preparation for the tournament was less than ideal, having originally being suspended for a player registration mix up, then stepping in as hosts as late as last November. But they face Ghana as an unbeaten team, after two draws taking care of Gabon comfortably before the controversial Quarter-Final win. The Black Stars started the tournament far less impressively with a loss to Senegal. They followed this up with a vitally important win over Algeria, an injury time winner by the ever-impressive Asamoah Gyan being the key moment so far for the Ghanaians. From there they were victorious over South Africa and a weak Guinea side, nevertheless expectations have now been raised and the fans now expect victory over the hosts, even without the injured Gyan.
The gulf in talent between the two teams was soon apparent in the game itself, Ghana looking the superior side their FIFA ranking suggests, 81 places in between the two African nations. The Equatorial Guinea game plan seemed to consist of pressurising the referee as much as possible, some unsavoury scenes occurring with each and every member of the paying squad of their feet to appeal for a yellow card to be given to Harrison Afful for a late challenge. A stop start game ensued, Ghana unable to breach the Equatorial Guinea goal, not for want of trying. Kwesi Appiah playing as the lone front man in Gyan’s absence was a strong presence, showing good movement and tireless in his runs. It was from one of these runs that that led to the deadlock being broken just after the forty minute mark, Appiah upended by keeper Felipe Ovono after being sent through on goal by the excellent Christian Atsu. The penalty was dispatched by Jordan Ayew who has had his detractors during the tournament, perhaps spurring the Lorient winger on to a strong display in this semi-final. It was to get worse for Equatorial Guinea seconds later after a breakaway goal from an attacking corner. Atsu, again at the heart of things, drove deep into the Equatorial Guinea half before finding Celtic’s Wakaso Mubarak in the box who took one touch inside before blasting past Ovono to make it two nil. The home crowd did not take kindly to this, the Ghana players shamefully needing protection form police shields as they left the pitch to a hail of bottles.
The second half brought more of the same and more, increased pressure on the Equatorial Guinea defence as they struggled to cope with the pace of Atsu and Andre Ayew’s clever play. Ayew himself, should have made the score three nil with a short range header ten minutes into the half, which he somehow put wide. It was then Atsu’s turn to attack the National Thunder’s back-tracking defenders, once again playing in Appiah who was this time denied by great goal-keeping, Ovono out quickly to save at the Cambridge United striker’s feet. With fifteen minutes remaining the scenario was repeated, Ovono again saving at Appiah’s feet, this time after a defence-splitting pass from Baba Rahman. This time, though, Appiah was able to gain the rebound, calmly looking up to pick out Andre Ayew in the box for a simple tap in, 3-0 and the Black Stars were coasting to the final. Things would not be that simple though and not due to on-field activity either, Ghana far and above the superior side, Equatorial Guinea unable to the lynchpin Javier Balboa into the game at all. The first signs of serious trouble, aside form the fairly constant barrage of water bottles was the sight of hundreds of Ghanaian fans converged behind the Equatorial Guinea goal. They had made their way down onto the pitch for their own safety due to violent scenes in the stands. What followed will remain a black mark in the competition’s history, the match being halted due to the ongoing disturbances in the stands. The game was brought to a halt and the players huddled in the centre-circle as farcical scenes ensued. There seemed to be disagreements between the CAF officials and the referee as to whether the remainder of the game would be seen out, all the while the players remained on the pitch for the best part of half an hour. As the helicopters circled above the stadium the crowd’s behaviour seemed to worsen despite the protestations of the Equatorial Guinean players who pleaded with the fans to behave to no avail. In the end five minutes of play did resume before the final whistle was blown but unfortunately a fine Ghanaian performance would be overshadowed by events off the pitch on this occasion.