With riot police protecting the players from incensed rival fans and using tear gas to disperse troublemakers in the crowd, Ghana advanced to the Africa Cup of Nations football final with a 3-0 win over host Equatorial Guinea on Thursday.
The semifinal descended into chaos after the third goal, and Gabonese referee Eric Otogo-Castane soon halted the match in the 82nd minute. It resumed after about a 40-minute delay, and finished soon after.
“I’ve never played in front of anything like that, and I’d like to say sorry on behalf of my team,” Equatorial Guinea captain Emilio Nsue said. “It was an odd experience, one I’ve never felt before.”
The win puts four-time champion Ghana into Sunday’s final against Ivory Coast in Bata. In Malabo, Equatorial Guinea will play Congo for third place on Saturday.
The fans at Malabo Stadium first became irate after the Black Stars scored two late goals in the first half, and riot police were called in to protect Ghana’s players and fans, as spectators began to throw bottles at them.
After Ghana scored a third goal in the second half and water bottles again began to rain down, the match was stopped and the team’s fans were escorted out of the stadium for their own safety.
It took about 30 minutes for the Ghana fans to finally be cleared.
“I didn’t know what was happening,” Ghana’s Israeli coach Avram Grant said. “We saw some incidents of violence. I could not say I wasn’t concerned, but I wanted to keep the safety of my players. It was very important for me.”
During the stoppage, one fan ran onto the field and confronted one of the linesmen, but he was quickly taken away by security.
A police helicopter appeared over the stadium several times, flying perilously close to fans in one end of the stadium. The wind from the propellers caused debris to fly up from the emptying seats.
Riot police later entered another section and cleared the area of fans, whacking their shields with their batons to scare spectators.
The Ghana players remained in the middle of the field until the restart, while many from the Equatorial Guinea squad tried to calm the angry fans.
Grant was on the pitch “twice during the tumult and could be seen deep in discussions” with Otogo-Castane and officials, the Guardian reported. “His players, who remained calm if evidently confused, behaved with enormous credit, effectively facing down the most volatile of situations you will see inside a football ground – and they saw out the game without fuss.”
Jordan Ayew and Wakaso Mubarak scored for Ghana late in the first half, prompting angry local fans to throw bottles filled with liquid toward Ghana’s players and officials. Riot police held their shields over their heads to escort them off the field, and then on again for the second half.
Despite pleas for calm from the public address announcer, bottles continued to be thrown throughout the second half, including after Andrew Ayew scored the third goal in the 75th.
Jordan Ayew gave Ghana the lead by converting a penalty in the 42nd. The spot kick was awarded after Kewsi Appiah was taken down by Equatorial Guinea goalkeeper Felipe Ovono on the edge of the area.
Mubarak made it 2-0 in injury time, collecting a pass from Christian Atsu in the area and beating opposing defender Ruben Belima before shooting in.
Some fans then went wild, throwing bottles at Ghana’s players as they attempted to head to the changing rooms.
Under coach Esteban Becker, Equatorial Guinea made a surprising run to the semifinals after taking over as host at short notice. The team was kicked out of qualifying for fielding an ineligible player, but reinstated when it assumed hosting responsibilities from Morocco in November.
In the quarterfinals, a controversial late penalty against Tunisia led to extra time and the hosts ended up winning 2-1. But furious Tunisian players attacked the referee, damaged their changing room, and were fined for their actions.
Although the hosts benefited from the questionable call last weekend, the fans were clearly furious with the decision-making of Otogo-Castane on Thursday.
“I’m very happy with my players and how they played in this tournament,” Becker said, “but I regret the incidents.”