Four-time champions Ghana is back in the Africa Cup of Nations soccer semi-finals for the first time in seven years.
Christian Atsu, who plays for Everton in the English Premier League, scored in the fourth and 61st minutes and England-born Kwesi Appiah’s 66th-minute goal completed Ghana’s overwhelming 3-0 victory over Guinea last Sunday in Equatorial Guinea.
Ghana’s coach, Avram Grant, promises his team will be much better in their semi-final meeting with Equatorial Guinea today.
“We are on the right way to being better than today,” he said. “Expectations of this team were not high, but that doesn’t matter.”
Guinea, which finished level with Mali in their group after drawing their three matches, qualified for the quarter-finals after the drawing of lots. It was the first time lots decided a team’s qualification in the tournament since 1988, when Algeria advanced at Ivory Coast’s expense.
The Confederation of African Soccer (CAF) has said that alternative systems to separate teams would be considered.
“It’s not fair to have a team going out like this,” said CAF media director Junior Binyam. “It really is the worst decision to have to make a decision this way because everybody expected it would be decided on the field.”
Equatorial Guinea advanced to the Final Four with a historic 2-1 win over 2004 champions Tunisia, which conceded a controversial penalty in the 91st minute and lost 2-1 in overtime.
“We are so happy to be in the semi-finals, and the key to our victory was passion,” said defender Rui Da Gracia. “The referee is the boss on the pitch and if he says it’s a penalty, it’s a penalty. I don’t care about it.”
Tunisia’s coach, Georges Leekens, was obviously upset with the result.
“The referee has made a huge error,” said Leekens. “It’s an injustice. In all my 45 years in football, 15 as a player and 30 as a coach, I’ve never seen anything like it. The result was forced. I can’t accept it. We played a good game, we’ve worked like mad men, we had a difficult first two weeks and we didn’t deserve that. If they had played better than us, then I would accept defeat but I can’t in this fashion.”
Originally eliminated from qualifying for the finals after fielding an ineligible player, Equatorial Guinea was reinstated last November when Morocco declined to host the tournament following the Ebola crisis.
The Central African country is ranked 118th in the world while Tunisia – at number 22 – is Africa’s second-highest ranked nation behind Algeria, which is in the 18th slot.
The Democratic Republic of Congo overcame a two-goal deficit to defeat neighbours Congo 4-2.
“We never lost hope and confidence that we could still win the match,” said the winning team’s coach, Florent Ibenge. “We changed tactics and formation after we went 2-0 down because I noticed the Congo defence was getting tired. If we had lost to Congo, it would amount to us not doing anything at this tournament. A defeat today would have been a lot tougher on us.”
The Democratic Republic of Congo met Ivory Coast yesterday in the other semi-finals. Manchester City forward Wilfried Bony scored twice to lead the 1992 champions to a 3-1 win over 1990 champions Algeria last Sunday.
“I think we have beaten the best team in the tournament,” said Ivory Coast coach Herve Renard, who led Zambia to the 2012 title. “We needed to be very well organized and try to counter a team which is very strong individually.”
Ivory Coast, which won the tournament 23 years ago and is the 28th-ranked team in world soccer, returned to the semi-finals for the fourth time.
The third-place playoff game takes place on Saturday while the final is on Sunday.