Togo reach African Cup quarterfinals, Tunisia out
NELSPRUIT, South Africa (AP) -Togo advanced to the quarterfinals of the African Cup of Nations for the first time at the expense of Tunisia after their controversy-filled match finished 1-1 on Wednesday.
South African referee Daniel Bennett was the focus of attention, awarding two contentious penalties to Tunisia and turning down several others for both teams.
Tunisia's Khaled Mouelhi converted the first spot kick but hit the upright with the second, a miss that ultimately cost his team a place in the quarterfinals.
Serge Gakpe scored the opener for Togo in the 13th minute, while Mouelhi's equalizer from the penalty spot came in the 30th.
Although the rest of the match brought plenty of action, and questions for Bennett, Tunisia was unable to score the winner it required to deny Togo a new slice of history.
Togo made a bright start, and nearly went ahead as early as the sixth minute when Serge Gakpe sprung the offside trap and crossed for Floyd Ayite, only for his shot to be deflected behind for a corner.
They threatened again in the 10th, when Ayite presented the ball for Emmanuel Adebayor at the top of the penalty area, but the striker swished his shot wide of goal.
The pressure paid off just three minutes later, when Adebayor turned on the halfway line, and slipped a pass through for Gakpe to fire past Tunisia goalkeeper Moez Ben Cherifia.
Tunisia's offside trap continued to falter, and Adebayor should have doubled Togo's lead after 21 minutes but he volleyed Gakpe's cross from the right wide of the upright.
Togo's profligacy came back to haunt it four minutes later, as out of nowhere Tunisia earned a penalty. As a corner was curled into the Togolese area, defender Walid Hichri was adjudged to have been tugged down by Togo's Dare Nibombe.
Mouelhi converted the spot kick.
Five minutes after the break, Tunisia had another shout for a penalty, but Bennett waved play on amid furious protests from the Tunisians, and did likewise on two more occasions when Adebayor was felled in the area.
The first came in the 58th when he tangled with Hichri, and the second 12 minutes later when he attempted to round Ben Cherifa and appeared to be tripped by the goalkeeper.
Adebayor hit the crossbar with a header in between those two appeals, and the action became heated moments later when Bennett awarded his second penalty to Tunisia.
The decision drew fierce criticism from the Togolese players, forcing Bennett to issue three yellow cards, one of them to Adebayor.
Mouelhi's miss sparked wild celebrations among most of the crowd, as well as on the Togolese bench.
Tunisia pressed in the dying stages of the match, and would have grabbed a late winner but for two point-blank saves from Togo goalkeeper Kossi Agassa.
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