Nelspruit — Nigeria skipper Vincent Enyeama last night hit out at the officials following his side's 1-1 draw with defending champions Zambia.
Nigeria were leading 1-0 through Emmanuel Emenike's strike but six minutes from time, Eddy Onazi was adjudged to have fouled Emmanuel Mayuka. Kennedy Mweene, Enyeama's counterpart, stepped up and swept in the equaliser.
"It was a bizarre call for a penalty," said 30-year-old Enyeama after the game in Nelspruit.
"It was one of the worst calls I've seen in the history of football. It doesn't belong to football. If we want to develop the football of Africa, you don't see such calls for a game of such magnitude - Nigeria v Zambia - to give such a big call."
Enyeama, who was captain in the absence of Joseph Yobo, said his side was still harbouring grievances about the standard of officiating during their 1-1 draw with Burkina Faso on 21 January.
Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi was reluctant to become embroiled in a row over decisions. "I'm not sure it was a penalty," Keshi remarked after the game. "In a big game like that, the penalty has to be clear. But the referee is the chief, he's the boss of the game. He's taken his decision."
Of more concern to Keshi will be his team's lack of composure at crucial moments.
They were leading 1-0 and controlling the game against Burkina Faso when Eric Ambrose was sent off for his second yellow card. That dismissal changed the dynamic and allowed Burkina Faso the opportunity to hunt an equaliser which arrived with the last kick of the game.
Against Zambia, Jon Obi Mikel scuffed a first half penalty against the post though he did atone for the error in the second half by muscling Chisamba Lungu off the ball and playing the through pass for Emenike to fire home.
And then with the three points almost collected, Onazi was reckless to tangle with Mayuka in the area.
Nigeria will advance to the last eight if they beat Ethiopia on 29 January in Rustenburg.
"We just have to move ahead and prepare for what we have to do next," says Keshi. The Ethiopians have an outside chance of qualification despite being thrashed 4-0 by Burkina Faso on Friday night.
At any rate Ethiopia coach Sewnet Bishaw has promised all out attack for goals to maintain the possibility of progress. There's also the no small matter of Ethiopian pride.
But will it be enough to arrest Nigerian ambition?