Gabon and Tunisia became the latest teams to seal their Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final places on Friday as Morocco and newcomers Niger were knocked out.
Day 7 at this year’s Nations Cup delivered up a Group C double bill in Libreville.
The first leg saw Tunisia, champions in 2004, down Niger 2-1 to put one foot in the last eight.
Next on the menu at the L’Amitie Stadium came Gabon, who faced a Morocco side fighting for their Cup lives after an opening loss to Tunisia.
Not one of the 40,000 crowd spurring on their national team will ever forget the 3-2 victory, which erupted in the final quarter of an hour with four goals, two of them in stoppage-time.
Morocco, with an injury time penalty, believed they had done enough to keep the wheels on their Cup campaign, but that was not counting on Bruno Mbanangoyes’ curling free-kick in the final second of the eighth minute of stoppage-time of a remarkable encounter.
Gabon had been on the brink of winning in normal time after goals from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Daniel Cousin in the 73rd and 77th minutes had put them in command after Houssine Kharja’s opener.
However, as the stadium announcer urged the partisan supporters to “remain calm, remain calm” Kharja appeared to have spoiled Gabon’s night when stepping up to coolly convert the 91st minute spot-kick awarded for Charly Moussono’s handball.
Rarely can one man have ever so effectively silenced a crowd of this size.
However, then along came Mbanangoye to seal all three points and put Gabon into the knockout stages, and give the fans back their voice.
The result also put Tunisia into the quarter-finals, these two teams joining already qualified Equatorial Guinea and Ivory Coast.
Reflecting on the stunning win, Gabon coach Gernot Rohr said: “The final 15 minutes were truly dramatic. I must say bravo to my players. Our fortunes turned when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored. Now we’d like to finish top of the group, then we can stay in Libreville.”
The German praised not only his team, but their “12th man” — the crowd.
“The atmosphere reminded me of a night when I was coach of Bordeaux, with [Zinedine] Zidane, we beat AC Milan 3-0 in the Champions League in 1996, the crowd helped us that day like they did tonight,” Rohr said.
Morocco coach Eric Gerets was bemused how the game had slipped from his team’s grasp and marveled at the dramatic finish.
“My heart was going 200 beats a second. I have to congratulate Gabon’s coach and his team, they’ll have a big party in Gabon tonight, but I would have preferred a big party in Morocco,” Gerets said.
Earlier, Tunisia had raced into a three minute lead against Niger courtesy of Youssef Msakni only for William Tonji Ngounou to create history with debutant Niger’s first ever Cup goal five minutes later.
However, Tunisia ruined Niger’s night when substitute Issam Jemaa bagged the winner for the 2004 titleholders in the final minute.