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.
Bennett's decisions drew furious reactions from Togo coach Didier Six and his players, with Six directing his anger for the second penalty at both the referee and Confederation of African Football officials on the sidelines.
"I think the referee was not seeing our penalties, but at the end of the day that's what I told the players on the pitch. We had to keep going,'' Togo captain Emmanuel Adebayor said.
"I cannot blame him. Today was not his best day. What do you want me to tell you? He had a bad day, but fortunately we found a way out and we're just happy that we're still in (the tournament).''
Togo made a bright start, and continually beat the offside trap, as Floyd Ayite and Adebayor both went close in the opening 10 minutes.
The pressure paid off just three minutes later, when Adebayor turned on the halfway line, and slipped a pass through for Serge 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, and Mouelhi converted the spot kick.
Five minutes after the break, Tunisia had another shout for a penalty, but Bennett waved play on amid animated 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.
"I'm not here to speak about what the referee did,'' Tunisia coach Sami Trabelsi said. "I'm here to answer questions about my team.''
Mouelhi's miss sparked wild celebrations among most of the crowd, as well as on the Togolese bench.
Tunisia pressed in the dying stages, and would have grabbed a late winner but for two point-blank saves from Togo goalkeeper Kossi Agassa.
The final whistle brought both joy and relief for Togo, which did a lap of honor.
"It's very important for Togo the first time they qualify. We were a little team in this group, and we have come through to the quarterfinals,'' Six said. "Today I think in Lome it's a big party.''
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