MALABO, Equatorial Guinea, February 4 – Gabon referee Eric Otogo will be in the spotlight Thursday as Africa Cup of Nations hosts Equatorial Guinea and Ghana meet in a semi-final after disgraceful scenes in a weekend match involving the hosts.
On Saturday, a dubious penalty decision in the dying minutes by Mauritian referee Rajindraparsad Seechurn turned the tide in favour of Equatorial Guinea against Tunisia.
Javier Balboa converted the harshly awarded spot-kick and he scored again in extra-time to give the host nation a shock 2-1 victory.
After the game, riot police had to protect the match officials from furious Tunisian players.
Otogo, 38, who has officiated two matches at this tournament, will be expected to redeem the organisers’ credibility with his performance in Malabo.
Ghana coach Avram Grant admitted there have been a couple of bad refereeing calls at the tournament, but preferred to focus on preparing his team.
“If the referee will do two, three (mistakes), I cannot control (it). I can control only our performance,” said the former Chelsea manager.
“I think the referees until now — except (for) one or two games — have been good.
“And I am sure everyone will be watching this and everybody who needs to take care of this will do their job.”
This will be Ghana’s fifth consecutive semi-final, while the Nzalang Nacional (national thunder) are in the last four for the first time.
If the host nation’s passage to the semi-final was controversial, the Black Stars’ qualification was most convincing as they dumped Guinea 3-0.
Four-time winners Ghana have improved since an opening-match 2-1 loss to Senegal by beating Algeria, South Africa and Guinea.
However, they are sweating on the fitness of inspirational skipper Asamoah Gyan, who is nursing a hip injury after a collision with Guinea goalkeeper Naby Yattara.
England-based striker Kwesi Appiah, who scored against Guinea, could replace Gyan.
Equatorial Guinea are unhappy having to move to Malabo for the game from their fortress in Bata, where they have not lost an international game.
Three years ago, it was in Malabo that they were thumped 3-0 by the Ivory Coast in the quarter-finals.
Javier Balboa will again be the source of inspiration for the team. He has stood out with his maturity and class.
Goalkeeper Felipe Ovono, who features in the semi-professional Equatoguinean league, has also caught the eye and is one of the reasons his country are still in this tournament.
“It will be difficult to win the Cup of Nations, but I pray to still win it,” said Argentine coach Esteban Becker, who led Equatorial Guinea to the 2012 African women’s title.
“We like the challenge, we are hungry to win. We are a young team, a team for the future. We have at least 10 top young players, but we want to take it one step at a time.
“All the same, I’m very happy for a small country like Equatorial Guinea, even though we lined up many young players who are playing their football in the lower leagues in Europe. It’s incredible, I’m proud of what we have so far achieved.”