- Associated Press - Saturday, January 21, 2017

LIBREVILLE, Gabon (AP) - In a curious twist even for this occasionally erratic soccer tournament, the African Cup of Nations was targeted by hackers on Saturday, with a group claiming to be Russian saying they had “taken down” the tournament’s official website in a protest against what they called host country Gabon’s dictatorial president.

The Confederation of African Football’s site was not working when Ghana became the second team at the tournament after Senegal to qualify for the quarterfinals with a narrow 1-0 win over Mali.

Egypt, returning to the African Cup after missing the last three, then beat Uganda 1-0 with an 89th-minute goal from Abdallah Said to be the team best-placed to join Ghana in the quarterfinals from Group D.

Although Group D is shaping up for an intense finish, with record seven-time champion Egypt needing to take at least a point against Ghana to confirm its place in the quarters, the purported hacking incident took attention away from the soccer for a little while.

A group called New World Hackers emailed The Associated Press to claim responsibility for a cyberattack, saying they hacked the African soccer confederation’s official website in protest at organizers taking the tournament to the “dictatorship” of Gabon.

Gabon President Ali Bongo Ondimba, who paid a visit to Gabon’s soccer team on Saturday, was re-elected last year in a close and tense election. The vote was followed by clashes and deaths on the streets of the capital Libreville and the buildup to the African Cup was undermined by concerns that large political protests would break out again during the tournament.

Tournament organizers the Confederation of African Football couldn’t immediately confirm if their website at Cafonline.com had been hacked, but it was down for at least five hours on Saturday afternoon and evening.

Anyone following the soccer on the site would have missed Ghana, the four-time African champion, secure its place in the last eight by beating Mali 1-0 with a goal by striker Asamoah Gyan.

Ghana started rapidly in the southern city of Port-Gentil, with Andre Ayew missing a golden opportunity in front of goal before his brother Jordan set up Gyan for what turned out to be the 21st minute winner. Almost the entire Ghana team lined up to dance in celebration of Gyan’s goal.

Ghana survived intense pressure from the Malians in the closing stages at Stade de Port-Gentil to make the last eight, albeit after two less-than-thrilling 1-0 wins.

Egypt was growing frustrated as it failed to break down tournament long-shot Uganda in the day’s second game in Port-Gentil until substitute Said hammered his late shot low and hard past Ugandan goalkeeper Denis Onyango for the winner and a crucial boost for the Egyptians.

Egypt is currently playing the tournament with just one fit goalkeeper, 44-year-old Essam el-Hadary. He came through Saturday’s group game unscathed as Egypt secured what might be a vital win in its campaign to get back to the top of African football.

Gabon will be under pressure when the final round of group games starts on Sunday and not just from critics of Bongo.

The Gabonese team has started the tournament with two draws and needs to win against group leader Cameroon to be sure to go through to the knockout stages and not disappoint its home fans.

Around 50 soldiers with automatic rifles surrounded Gabon’s training field ahead of Bongo’s visit with the team on Saturday. Bongo’s words to the Gabonese players, which included Borussia Dortmund striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, were simple, goalkeeper Didier Ovono said.

“The message was clear,” Ovono said of Bongo’s pep talk. “The expectations are very high. We have no other choice but to win that match.”

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Follow Gerald Imray on Twitter at https://twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP

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