Nelspruit — Togo felt they had the entire world against them on Wednesday when a series of refereeing decisions went against them, but in the end they managed to hang on for a piece of history.
The 1-1 draw with Tunisia was packed with controversial incident and post-match conspiracy theories but enough to ensure Togo's progress to the knockout phase, where they will play Burkina Faso on Sunday at the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit.
In breaking through to the quarter-finals, they have overcome a run in which they failed to get through the first round in seven previous finals appearances.
That they were harshly treated by referee Daniel Bennett in the encounter with Tunisia is without doubt, but the suggestion that he might have had an anti-Togo, pro-Tunisia agenda is preposterous. He made the calls as he saw them – some right and some wrong – but they all seemed to go in Tunisia’s favour.
The first penalty against Dare Nidombe was correct but unusual. Tugging and pulling between players at set pieces has become commonplace and largely unchecked by referees. Bennett bucked this trend by awarding a penalty when the giant Togo defender wrestled Tunisia’s Walid Hicheri to the ground.
The referee, who is on the World Cup short list, then booked the wrong defender and failed to give Togo a penalty when Adebayor went tumbling down in the box. It is true that Adebayor went looking for the penalty and fell too easily, but it was still a spot kick that should have been awarded.
The second Tunisia penalty was correctly awarded but at a time when tempers were already out of control. In the end it looked as if Bennett had it in for the Togolese.
Afterwards, Emmanuel Adebator was surprisingly conciliatory: “I think the referee was not seeing our penalties, but at the end of the day that’s what I told the players on the pitch. We had to keep going, and keep enjoying ourselves on the pitch. I cannot blame him. Today was not his best day.
"What do you want me to tell you? He had a bad day, but fortunately we found a way out and we’re just happy that we’re still in (the tournament). We just have to enjoy it, and watch the game a little bit better and try and find a way that if you give a penalty to one side then you can give it to both,” he said.