It was almost the fairy tale story for Equatorial Guinea in this year’s African Cup of Nations. The hosts came within 90 minutes of a dream final appearance, only to be stopped in their tracks by a rampant Ghana side managed by ex Chelsea boss Avram Grant. Equatorial Guinea, who gained a place in the tournament after they stepped in at the last minute as hosts due to Morocco’s reluctance, had low expectations of what was going to be possible but have surprised many along the way. Placed in a tough group with Congo, Gabon and 2013 finalists Burkina Faso, the home fans would have been forgiven for thinking that their stay in the tournament would be a short one. However two draws and a win were enough to send Guinea into the knockout stages much to Burkina Faso’s frustration who finished the group in last place. Up next was Tunisia who provided stiffer opposition. It looked to be the end of the road for Guinea who fell behind with twenty minutes left thanks to a goal from Ahmed Akaichi. But Esteban Becker’s side rallied and push Tunisia back, eventually nicking the goal they needed in the ninetieth minute to send the game into extra time. With the momentum firmly behind them, Equatorial Guinea now faced a disillusioned Tunisia side who finally gave up in 12 minutes into the first half of extra time, thanks to a stunning free kick from Javier Balboa who notched his second goal of the game.
Up next was Ghana who had blasted past Guinea in their quarter final match by a score of 3-0. It took their total to seven goals in the tournament so far with Grant side looking more dangerous as the event progressed. Beating Ghana would take a lot of grit and determination with a slice of luck on the side of Equatorial Guinea but alas it wasn’t to be. In an ill tempered match that was marred on several occasions by crowd troubles including two incidents where Guinea fans invaded the pitch. With Ghana coasting to victory after Andre Ayew scored his side’s third goal of the game, Equatorial Guinea fans pelted the visiting Ghanaian fans with bottles and stones which drove them onto the pitch forcing the players to run for the cover of the dressing room in the 82nd minute of the match whilst police tried to restore order. It took forty minutes and a helicopter firing tear gas to eventually subdue to angry Guinean fans so that the game could restart and the teams could play out the last eight minutes. The Confederation of African Football were quick to condemn the troubles, fining Equatorial Guinea $100,000 USD along with forcing the countries FA to front the medical bills of those 36 people who were injured during the riots. They have been warned about further sanctions that will be imposed if crowd trouble starts again in tomorrow’s third place game against DR Congo. Not quite the end to the fairy tale that manager Becker had hoped for.
Ghana will face the Ivory Coast in Sundays showcase with both sides keen to write a new chapter into their already rich histories. The Ivory Coast, who beat Cameroon and Congo to reach the final were beaten finalists in 2006 and 2012 but haven’t won the tournament since 1992. It’s a similar story for Ghana who lost the 2010 final to Egypt and ironically the 1992 final to the Ivory Coast. They have to go all the way back to 1982 to remember the last time they lifted the coveted trophy so are keen to not slip up this time. Both teams featured in last year’s World Cup but neither side lived up to their potential, failing to make it out of the group stages. Packed with star names like Yaya Toure, Wilfried Bony, Andre Ayew and Asamoah Gyan, it should be a spectacular finale to what has been a surprisingly good African Cup of Nations.
Despite the chaos that surrounded the last minute substitution of host and the limited time for re-organization, the tournament will be deemed a success with several of the plaudits going to the host, Equatorial Guinea. It is unfortunate that the latter stages of the tournament will be remembered more for its crowd troubles than the football on show but despite this, Africa’s pinnacle tournament looks to have survived and prospered once again under extremely difficult circumstances. CAF president Issa Hayatou faced much criticism for not postponing the tournament when Morocco pulled out but it appears that his decision has been vindicated much to his own delight.