By Mark Gleeson
Rioting spectators forced a 34-minute stoppage in the African Nations Cup semi-final and several people were injured as Ghana eliminated hosts Equatorial Guinea with a 3-0 defeat on Thursday night.
The crowd spilling onto the field meant the match was halted eight minutes from time as spectators sought sanctuary behind the goal after home fans attacked Ghana supporters and rained objects down on their bench.
Security forces fired tear gas and used a helicopter to clear the crowd, almost emptying the stands before the game was finally concluded with the referee playing two more minutes before calling time.
A controversially awarded penalty converted by Jordan Ayew in the 42nd minute, which initially sparked the violence, was followed by goals from Mubarak Wakaso and Andre Ayew to ensure Ghana reached a record ninth final where they will face the Ivory Coast.
However, the result was overshadowed after the violence left several people – including a Confederation of African Football (CAF) official, a policeman and several spectators – injured, CAF officials told Reuters.
Having stepped in as 11th hour hosts, Equatorial Guinea was basking in the glow of widespread praise for putting on a tournament with two months’ notice.
Enthusiastic crowds at four venues across the former Spanish-colony, now one of the richest countries in Africa following the discovery of oil, added to a festive atmosphere.
But all that was undone at the Nuevo Estadio de Malabo as a angry home fans brought the semi-final to an abrupt and ugly halt.
One spectator was seen tumbling from the stands as he fled the teargas.
The stadium looked a mess afterwards, strewn with broken plastic chairs, hundred of plastic water bottles and drinks cans that had been hurled from the stands.
There was no immediate comment from CAF but the image of African football was left badly tarnished as television pictures beamed the ugly scenes to a worldwide audience.
It followed a similarly tempestuous quarter-final in Bata at the weekend when Equatorial Guinea upset Tunisia to win an unlikely semi-final place after getting a dubious penalty right at the end of the game.
Tunisia were fined $50 000 for their behaviour, which included players chasing after Mauritian referee Rajindraparsad Seechurn at the end of their 2-1 defeat. Seechurn was subsequently suspended for six months for his poor officiating.
Another controversial penalty call in Thursday’s semi-final sparked the discord in Malabo as objects rained down on Ghana’s bench after they took a 42nd minute lead through Ayew’s spot kick.
By half-time riot police, called in from Angola for the tournament, needed to make a tunnel with their plastic shields to protect the Ghanaians from a volley of missiles and when an official took to microphone to appeal for calm he was met with a volley of abuse and more objects.
The second half was briefly stopped as a linesman had to flee infield to escape more objects being thrown at him.
When Ghana went 3-0 up in the 75th minute, home fans turned on visiting supporters who fled through an open gate and onto the playing area, seeking sanctuary behind the goal.
On Friday, Equatorial Guinea were fined $100,00 or the behaviour of their supporters by the Confederation of African Football.