Photo by Omar Zoheiry/picture alliance via Getty Images

AFCON: Madagascar in QF as fairytale debut goes on; Algeria joins them

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CAIRO (AP) — Madagascar beat Congo 4-2 in a penalty shootout Sunday to ensure its fairytale debut at the African Cup of Nations continued as it advanced to the quarterfinals.

Congo defender Chancel Mbemba equalized in the last minute of normal time for 2-2 to send the game into extra time, and neither team could break through to avoid the shootout in Alexandria.

Defender Marcel Tisserand sent Congo’s first spot kick well over the bar and Yannick Bolasie also missed when he had to score after Ibrahim Amada, Romain Métanire, Thomas Fontaine and Jérôme Mombris all converted their penalties for Madagascar.

Algeria booked its place in the quarterfinals with a 3-0 win over Guinea, which was missing influential midfielder Naby KeĂŻta through injury.

Goals from Youcef Belaïli in the first half, and Riyad Mahrez — with an impressive finish — and Adam Ounas in the second, set up a game against Mali or Ivory Coast on Thursday.

Madagascar’s team, mostly consisting of players plying their trade in the lower leagues in France, had already ensured a dream debut in the tournament after staying unbeaten to finish top of Group B, ahead of former winners Nigeria and Guinea. Madagascar’s 2-0 win over Nigeria was one of the biggest surprises in African Cup history.

Amada got the side off to a flying start against Congo when he let fly from outside the penalty area to send the ball in off the far post in the ninth minute, and captain Faneva Andriatsima set off wild celebrations when he canceled out Cedric Bakambu’s first-half equalizer with a diving header in the 77th, only for Mbemba to keep Congo’s hopes alive.

Cheered on by the Madagascan president, Andry Rajoelina, and around 450 jubilant fans, Andriatsima’s side held its nerve in the shootout to set up a quarterfinal against Ghana or Tunisia on Thursday.

Norwich City striker could quit Congo team over treatment

Photo by Richard Huggard/Gallo Images/Getty Images
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LONDON (AP) A footballer caught up in the bombings in Brussels could stop playing for Congo, saying Wednesday he has been unfairly treated by team officials who want to suspend him for failing to report for international duty after the attacks.

Dieumerci Mbokani was at Zaventem Airport in Brussels during the attacks on March 22 that killed 32 people. Mbokani was unhurt, and decided against travelling to Congo for two African Nations Cup qualifiers.

Congolese Football Federation president Constant Omari told British broadcaster Sky Sports that Mbokani “has shown disrespect for the national side” because he was due to fly a day before the attacks, but decided to change his ticket without explanation.

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Speaking through a translator, Mbokani said: “It might be the best time to stop playing international football.

“Obviously in normal circumstances, I’ll always go and play for Congo but in these exceptional circumstances, I was disappointed they didn’t understand where I was coming from.”

The 30-year-old Mbokani, a striker on loan at Premier League side Norwich from Ukrainian champion Dynamo Kiev, told the BBC that he was “traumatized” by the events in Brussels.

“The Congolese FA president said, `Since when do people from Congo get traumatized?”‘ Mbokani said. “That’s shameful.

“I asked my club Norwich City if I could stay for a few days with my family and they accepted straight away. They know very well that I only just escaped being killed. That’s why I wanted to stay with my family. The football federation in Congo think I’m lying . that’s why I’m going to stop playing for the national team.”

Mbokani scored in Norwich’s 3-2 win over Newcastle in the Premier League on Saturday on his return to domestic action.

Africa Cup of Nations roundup: DR Congo, Equatorial Guinea into SF after wild day of events

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It was an…eventful, shall we say…first day of 2015 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) semifinals action on Saturday. An injured player was run over by the medical cart that was supposed to pick him up and drive him off the field in the first quarterfinal game, while the head referee was berated and chased from the field after whistling one of the worst penalty kick calls you’ll ever see in the other game.

Congo 2-4 DR Congo

First things first, let’s let DR Congo defender Gabriel Zakuani (brother of former MLS star Steve Zakuani) tell his side of the story.

Come on, Gabriel, you make it sound like you were just sitting there and the cart ran into you completely unexpectedly. 

Well then, OK, you weren’t joking. The score was still 0-0 at that point of the game, less than five minutes into the second half. That changed shortly after (and often) when Ferebory Dore put Congo a goal ahead in the 55th minute. Almeria forward Thievy Bifouma doubled the lead seven minutes later and things looked rosy as could be for the Diables Rouges.

Dynamo Kiev forward Dieumerci Mbokani pulled one back for DR Congo in the 65th minute, Jeremy Bokila equalized with 15 minutes of regular tie still to be played, and the Leopards weren’t done yet. Joel Kimwaki gave DR Congo the lead in the 81st minute, and Mbokani gave his side the much-desired insurance goal in the 91st.

Zero goals for 55 minutes, followed by six goals in the final 35 minutes — that’s the beauty of AFCON, baby. DR Congo will face the winner of Ivory Coast vs. Algeria in the first semifinal this Wednesday, Feb. 4.

Tunisia 1-2 (after extra time) Equatorial Guinea

While the notable events from the day’s first quarterfinal were lighthearted and everyone came away unscathed, the same can’t be said of the post-whistle events after hosts Equatorial Guinea advanced to the AFCON semifinals for the first time ever.

All Tunisia had to do was navigate second-half stoppage time with the 1-0 lead still intact, and they were through to the semis. Then came the game’s most controversial decision as referee Rajindraparsad Seechurn awarded Equatorial Guinea a penalty kick after a blatant dive by Ivan Bolado. Javier Balboa stepped up to the penalty spot and converted with less than a minute of stoppage time remaining.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s AFCON 2015 coverage ]

Seechurn found himself the center of attention in the 100th minute as Balboa was the next Equatorial Guinea player to go down easily, this time winning a free kick six yards outside Tunisia’s penalty area. Balboa took the ensuing free kick and scored a stunning goal that snuck into the upper 90, leaving goalkeeper Aymen Mathlouthi completely helpless.

Following the final whistle, Tunisian protests turned angry and physical as the entire team raced to the face of the referee, verbally berated him and had to be forcibly separated by stadium security in order to remove Seechurn from the field of play before he was chased down the tunnel, according to reports. As the teams left the field, Tunisia players were pelted with by objects raining down from the crowd.

Equatorial Guinea will face the winner of Ghana vs. Guinea in the second semifinal this Thursday, Feb. 5.

Sunday’s AFCON schedule

Ghana vs. Guinea (11 am ET)
Ivory Coast vs. Algeria (2:30 pm ET)

Africa Cup of Nations roundup: Congo, Equatorial Guinea victorious in group finales, advance

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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.

[ MORE: All of PST’s 2015 AFCON coverage ]

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).

[ FULL RECAP: Saturday’s AFCON action as struggles continue for Ivory Coast, Cameroon ]

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)

Africa Cup of Nations roundup: Fans clash with police, Congo wins first AFCON match since 1974

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Off the field stories are towering over play on Wednesday at the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations, as pre-match Ebola checks, grenade-attacked viewing parties and fans clashes with police headlined the day.

The Associated Press reports that “hundreds” of fans were involved in pregame fights with police ahead of Equatorial Guinea’s match with Burkina Faso. Fans threw rocks at police, which rarely goes over well, and the officers responded by launching tear gas into the crowd.

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Meanwhile on the field, the hosts continue to surprise the tournament. Equatorial Guinea is at the heart of a Wednesday’s duo of matches.

Equatorial Guinea 0-0 Burkina Faso

The tournament’s hosts picked up a second-successive draw, and can advance to the knockout rounds if they’re able to beat Gabon in the Group A finale on Sunday.

The sides combined for 27 total shots, but just six were on goal.

source: APGabon 0-1 Congo

Ladies and gentlemen, nothing is decided in Group A after favored Gabon was stunned by Congo on Wednesday.

How stunning was it? Congo hadn’t won an AFCON match since 1974.

Just after halftime, Congo captain Prince Oniangue (right) took advantage of a lapse in Gabon’s defensive communication during a corner kick and hit a low ball into the goal.

That meant it was game on, with Congo leaping to the top of the group via the power of an opening draw with Equatorial Guinea.

Thursday’s matches

Zambia vs. Tunisia

Cape Verde vs. DR Congo