BATA, Equatorial Guinea (AP) — Host Equatorial Guinea is into the quarterfinals at the African Cup of Nations, and so is one of the big outsiders in Republic of Congo.
Equatorial Guinea eliminated Gabon with a second-half surge to take its place in the knockout stages of its home tournament on Sunday as Javier Balboa and Iban Edu scored in a 2-0 win in the last round of games in Group A.
The victory caused wild celebrations by the home fans at Bata Stadium, who roared, stamped their feet down on the metal floors of the stadium, and even caused riot police to be scrambled around the field at the very end just in case the wild celebrations got out of hand.
"It's magnificent," Equatorial Guinea's Argentine coach Esteban Becker said. He put it down to "the passion" of his young team.
Republic of Congo's progress — as winner of the group — was more surprising as the team had not even qualified for the African championship in 15 years, and last won a game at the African Cup in 1974.
Now, the team has won twice in four days.
Republic of Congo followed up its 1-0 win over Gabon with a 2-1 victory over Burkina Faso in Ebebiyin to seal a spot in the quarters.
Fabrice N'Guessi grabbed the Congolese winner with a header three minutes from the end, and a minute after Burkina Faso had equalized, to further improve French coach Claude Le Roy's outstanding record at the Cup of Nations. Le Roy is coaching in a record eighth African Cup.
In Bata, the host had to ride its luck as Gabon strikers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Frederic Bulot had gilt-edged chances in the first half but were denied by outstanding Equatorial Guinea goalkeeper Felipe Ovono.
The game changed in the second when Javier Balboa won and converted a penalty for Equatorial Guinea in the 55th minute, emptying the bench as the entire squad raced out to celebrate with him. As Gabon pushed desperately for an equalizer that would have sent it through instead, it left holes at the back. Iban Edu pounced with four minutes to go to make sure of the victory, and the place in the quarters.
While the country celebrated, a bitterly disappointed Gabon coach Jorge Costa and captain Aubameyang lamented referee Doue Noumandiez's decision to give the penalty that led to the first goal.
"There you go. It's football," Aubameyang said.