RANGERS centre-back Bilel Mohsni spoke out against the injustice that his Tunisia team experienced at the Africa Cup of Nations on Saturday, as they lost 2-1 to hosts Equatorial Guinea in the quarter-final in Bata after some questionable refereeing decisions.
The anger stemmed from a number of questionable decisions by the referee, who awarded a last-minute penalty in debatable circumstances after full-back Hamza Mathlouthi felled Ivan Bolado. Javier Balboa stepped up to score the equaliser and send the match into extra time, before scoring a stunning free-kick in the 102nd minute to seal the win.
“The referee was the best player on the pitch today, so this is why all the players were very upset. You can understand because we came here to represent our country, and now all of our country are upset because we didn’t lose because we were bad, but because the referee was better than us,” aggrieved Mohsni after the game.
The game was maligned by time-wasting, play-acting and excessive aggression from both sides, as Equatorial Guinea continued their incredible run in a tournament they were expected to crash out in during the group stage. Mauritian referee Rajindraparsad Seechurn struggled to keep a hold of the match, with the booming atmosphere in the stadium from the home fans making it a tough environment to referee in.
“Maybe [it was because we were playing the hosts]. I don’t know if you saw the replay of the penalty – it wasn’t a penalty – and the free-kick – it wasn’t a free-kick. But when you have the referee against you, it’s very hard to win. So if it was fair, we would be able to beat Equatorial Guinea, but it wasn’t,” said the 27-year-old.
Mohsni – who spent all four games of the tournament on the bench – spent much of extra-time patrolling the technical area with his compatriots, which naturally resulted in clashes between the two benches.
The Tunisian, who was banned by the SFA during an altercation with Hibernian defender Liam Fontaine, did not try to defend his team’s abhorrent actions after the game – implying that the referee deserved the treatment he received.
“The referee today wasn’t very good, we didn’t behave very good, so it was a draw,” he said.
Mohsni’s Tunisia will leave Equatorial Guinea in the coming days, meaning he should be available for Rangers’ Scottish Cup match against Raith Rovers next weekend. It was also the end of the Africa Cup of Nations campaign for Hibernian forward Dominique Malonga, as his Congo team crashed out at the quarter-finals stage earlier that day after a 4-2 loss to neighbours DR Congo, with the former Torino striker appearing as a late substitute in the defeat.
However, he will not be available to head coach Alan Stubbs for the visit of League Two leaders Arbroath in the Scottish Cup last-16 on Saturday as he is suspended following his red card in November’s 2-1 win over Alloa Athletic in the last round.
DR Congo will face the winner of Ivory Coast v Algeria on Wednesday, while the hosts go into Thursday’s semi-final with either Ghana or Guinea contesting their spot in the final (1900 GMT).
This leaves Celtic midfielder Mubarak Wakaso as the only Scottish-based player left at the tournament, as his Ghana side take on Guinea for a place in the semi-final.