Asante Kotoko said goodbye to the 2019/20 Caf Champions League after allowing Etoile du Sahel to overturn a 2-0 deficit from the first leg with an unanswered three-goal salvo in Monastir on Sunday.
Going into the game, the Porcupine Warriors were confident of preserving their lead at the virtually empty Stade Mustapha Ben Jannet in order to secure a group stage berth for the first time since 2006.
But they were first undone by a poor penalty decision in the first half before Karim Aribi killed them off with a second-half brace.
Referee Nour El-Din lifted the spirits of the Tunisians after a barren opening 20 minutes by whistling for a penalty after Kotoko midfielder Justice Blay headed the ball out for a corner. The Egyptian referee strangely adjudged that the Kotoko player used his hand in that defensive effort.
Kotoko’s protests against the unfair judgment fell on deaf ears after which Mortahda Ben Ouanes stepped up and converted the penalty on 24 minutes.
Coach Kjetil Zachaiassen’s side did themselves little good in terms of coming back into the game by creating very few chances.
Goalkeeper Felix Annan was forced into making saves after saves as his side got exposed on the laterals.
It was in one of such swift build-up moves by Etoile that saw Karim Aribi overpowering right-back Empem Dacosta to nod home a cross from the left. 2-0 and all squared on aggregate it became in the 67th minute.
On 78 minutes Richard Arthur looked poised to pull one back after being put through on goal but Ben Aziza denied him the chance with a deliberate foul that attracted a straight red card. But the free-kick opportunity was wasted.
Etoile du Sahel would play the final minutes but still managed to score the match-winner through another Karim Aribi header five minutes from full time.
Etoile held on to their 3-goal advantage as the Egyptian referee blew the final whistle after 3 minutes of added time. Kotoko defender Habib Mohammed charged on the referee in protest and received a red card even when the game had ended.
The Tunisians progress to the group stage of the Champions League while Kotoko drop to compete in the playoffs to the Confederation Cup group stage.