Afcon 2015: 'Weak' hosts defy odds to reach semi-finals

By Stephen FottrellBBC Sport
Equatorial Guinea players celebrate with fans after reaching the Nations Cup semi-final
Equatorial Guinea's players have upset the odds by reaching their first semi-final

Even if Equatorial Guinea's progression to the Africa Cup of Nations semi-finals was overshadowed by a controversial penalty decision, their achievement in reaching the last four should not be overlooked.

For a side ranked 118th in the world - 81 places below their semi-final opponents, Ghana - it is a remarkable feat for one of Africa's least heralded footballing nations and the weakest team in the tournament on paper.

When you also consider that they should not even be at the finals - having been eliminated for fielding an ineligible player in qualifying - before being reinstated, as hosts, after replacing Morocco - it puts it in further perspective.

This is a massive accomplishment, even in a tournament that has thrown up some surprises and fairytales in recent times, not least Zambia's emotional triumph in Gabon in 2012.

Tunisian players surround Equatorial Guinea defender Rui
Equatorial Guinea defender Rui says he 'doesn't care' about the penalty decision

Equatorial Guinea were co-hosts that year and managed to reach the last eight, in their only previous appearance at the finals.

But on Saturday, they went one better against a heavily fancied Tunisia, albeit in controversial circumstances after referee Rajindraparsad Seechurn harshly ruled defender Ali Maaloul to have fouled Ivan Bolado.

The game ended in ugly scenes - after Javier Balboa dispatched the penalty and a fantastic extra-time free-kick - but it is the Equatoguineans who advanced to their first Nations Cup semi-final.

They are one of the lowest-ranked sides to ever reach the last four of the continental showpiece and, according to defender Rui, it is the achievement that matters and not the controversy.

"The referee is the boss on the pitch and he decided it was a penalty, he told BBC Sport. "I don't care about it.

Equatorial Guinea winger Javier Balboa
The hosts' goalscorer, Javier Balboa, once played for Spanish giants Real Madrid

"Now it's the semis. We are so happy, because the tournament continues for us. It's possible to reach the final now.

"It's our second Nations Cup and for the first time we will be playing in the semis. I have happiness because the dream continues."

Striker Luis Fabiani underlined the team's elation at progressing this far for the first time.

"It's incredible to be in the semis," he said.

"All the country is happy. Everybody thought we were the weakest team, but we have shown that we are a strong and important team.

"It's a dream, to be one of the best teams in Africa."

Having also earlier claimed the scalp of neighbours Gabon, Esteban Becker's team will have to pull off another huge upset to reach the final, as they meet a determined Ghana side who have improved throughout the tournament, following an opening defeat to Senegal.

Whether they manage to progress to a home final or not, Equatorial Guinea have already written a chapter in Nations Cup history that will be spoken about for some time to come.