The first of eight 2015 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) quarterfinal places were decided in the Central African country of Equatorial Guinea on Sunday, as the tournament’s hosts and Group A favorites were victorious and secured passage into the knockout rounds.
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Gabon 0-2 Equatorial Guinea
All Gabon (3 points) needed from the group stage finale was a point against Equatorial Guinea (2), and Les Pantheres would find themselves in the quarterfinals for just the third time in their history. But it wasn’t meant to be as the host nation put in an inspired performance, particularly in the second half, despite being under pressure for most of the 90 minutes.
Very much against the run of play, and highly controversially, Equatorial Guinea were awarded a penalty in the 54th minute when forward Javier Balboa went down very easily inside the Gabon penalty area. Slow-motion replays confirmed there was little to no contract and that Balboa had in fact dived and conned the referee. Regardless, the penalty was awarded and Balboa himself converted to put the hosts up 1-0.
19-year-old forward Iban doubled Equatorial Guinea’s lead and sealed all three points, along with a place in the quarterfinals, when he poked home a rebound from close range in the 86th minute. Gabon held 66 percent of possession, but failed to convert possession into anything more (9 shots to Equatorial Guinea’s 10, 4 on target to 6).
Congo 2-1 Burkina Faso
The math was simple for Congo (4 points): a victory against Burkina Faso (1), and they win the group; a draw, and they finish either first or second.
The 90 minutes which unfolded on Sunday were anything but simple for Congo, though. Following a scoreless first half, it wasn’t until shortly after halftime that Congo finally broke through as Almeria forward Thievy Bifouma bundled the ball over the line from six yards out in the 51st minute.
Burkina Faso equalized with five minutes of regular time still to be played. Forward Aristide Bance redirected a cross from eight yards out past the goalkeeper to give his side a glimmer of hope. Congo hit right back, though, as forward Fabrice N’Guessi restored the lead a minute later and secured top spot in Group A.
Monday’s AFCON schedule
Cape Verde vs. Zambia (1 pm ET)
DR Congo vs. Tunisia (1 pm ET)