Togo beat Tunisia to place in quarters

NEAR CHAOS::Togo securing their first-ever place in the last eight was overshadowed by almost unbelievable refereeing in a game that saw several controversial calls

Reuters, NELSPRUIT, South Africa

Fri, Feb 01, 2013 - Page 20

Togo took the last quarter-final place at the Africa Cup of Nations to maintain the flow of outsiders into the last eight at the end of the group phase on Wednesday.

A 1-1 draw with Tunisia in Nelspruit ensured the point they needed to finish second behind the Ivory Coast in Group D and to earn a first place in the last eight, after failing in their seven previous attempts.

Ivory Coast, fielding their second-string side, but restoring Didier Drogba to the team, came from two goals down to draw 2-2 with Algeria in a dead rubber in Rustenburg, having already secured top place.

Togo now join the other unfancied countries, the Cape Verde Islands and Burkina Faso, in the knockout stage of a tournament strewn with upsets.

Togo faced a surprisingly timid showing from former winners Tunisia, who had to win the game to progress, plus several controversial calls in a game in which South African referee Daniel Bennett took center stage.

Bennett awarded Tunisia a penalty in each half, denied Togo captain Emmanuel Adebayor a legitimate-looking claim and booked the wrong Togo defender in a final 20 minutes of near pandemonium at the Mbombela Stadium.

Khalid Mouelhi’s failure to convert the second penalty in the 78th minute effectively cost his side their chance to progress, but, in truth, Tunisia lacked the necessary attacking rigor to force the desired result.

Mouelhi did score the first spot-kick on 30 minutes when Dare Nibombe was penalized for holding on to Tunisia’s Walid Hicheri in a wrestling tussle as he was defending a corner.

Tugging and pulling between players at set-pieces has become commonplace and largely unchecked, but Bennett bucked the trend by awarding a penalty.

Togo had the cushion of an early goal in the 13th minute when Serge Gakpe looked offside as he collected a sublime pass from Adebayor, but the goal was allowed to stand.

Adebayor’s penalty appeal came as he wriggled free of the Tunisia defense to go one-on-one with goalkeeper Moez Ben Cherifia and went tumbling down as he attempted to round him.

Togo were still arguing the decision to ignore the claim when Bennett handed another penalty to Tunisia, again against Nibombe, for clipping Saber Khlifa from behind. It further inflamed an already ill-tempered affair and four Togo players were booked in quick succession.

However, Mouelhi struck his shot against the upright.

“Togo showed their quality and their heart. I’m very happy for Togo, we were the little team in this group,” Togo coach Didier Six said.

Ivory Coast coach Sabri Lamouchi made nine changes from the team who beat Tunisia 3-0 to qualify for the quarter-finals, resting players ahead of the quarters.

He restored Drogba, who has admitted he is in need of match fitness, for a meeting between the two top-ranked African sides that had no bearing on the group’s outcome.

All four goals at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium came in a 16-minute spell in the second half with Algeria, already eliminated after losing their first two matches, taking the lead in the 64th minute, with substitute Sofiane Feghouli scoring two minutes after coming on for Ryad Boudebouz, who missed a penalty in the first half.

They doubled their lead six minutes later when Hilal Soudani thundered in a header after escaping his marker and meeting a perfect cross from Feghouli wide on the right.

Ivory Coast struck back in the 77th minute when Drogba outjumped the defense to head home.

They equalized three minutes later when a powerful shot from Wilfried Bony deflected off Algeria defender Djamel Mesbah.