- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 4, 2015

MALABO, Equatorial Guinea (AP) - With little time to prepare a team and a country for the African Cup of Nations, host Equatorial Guinea has exceeded expectations on just about every level.

Thursday’s semifinal against Ghana could be the end of the road for the team, however.

Equatorial Guinea took over as host from Morocco only in mid-November, and the national soccer team, disqualified from the qualifiers for cheating, was hastily assembled, as were two of the venues. Second place in Group A gave the team a spot in the quarterfinals, and a late penalty call in the knockout match against Tunisia led to a spot in the semifinals.

Tunisia complained bitterly about the penalty decision, and on Tuesday was fined $50,000 for trying to assualt the referee after the match. The team was also ordered to pay for damages to a door and a refrigerator in the team’s dressing room at Bata Stadium.

“It’s a logical thing that a team like Tunisia is sad. They have lost a football match against a weaker team,” Equatorial Guinea coach Esteban Becker said Wednesday. “Tunisia is a top team, and (Equatorial) Guinea is not. So, they want to justify their loss with issues out of football.

“If Tunisia was a very good team, they should have beaten us 4-0. They have drawn 1-1. They had (another) 30 minutes to score one, two, three goals. They didn’t score because they couldn’t. Because (Equatorial) Guinea was better in the pitch.”

Against Ghana, things might be tougher. The Black Stars are one of the best teams on the continent, and are in the semifinals for the fifth straight tournament. The four-time champions last reached the African Cup final in 2010 but lost to Egypt, and last won the title in 1982.

Despite Equatorial Guinea’s fortunate penalty against Tunisia, a call which got Mauritian official Rajindraparsad Seechurn suspended for poor refereeing, Ghana coach Avram Grant said he was worried only about what he can influence.

“If the referee will do one, two, or three (penalty kicks), I cannot control (that),” Grant said. “My role is about our performance. But I want to believe that everything outside the pitch is good. The referees until now, from what I’ve seen, except in one or two games, in our games was good.”

Becker, an Argentine who coached Equatorial Guinea’s women’s team before taking over the men three weeks before the tournament, said his team was suprising everyone.

And if his team can win on Thursday at Malabo Stadium, it will be an even bigger surprise.

“Each game was a story in itself. Now comes the Ghana story,” Becker said. “We only think of a victory. Our only thought is a win. We want to continue to make history. We are happy, but we want more.”

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