Updated: January 12, 2022 11:21:27 pm
The African Cup of Nations Group F match between Mali and Tunisia on Wednesday was supposed to give a glimpse into the title credentials of the two contenders. However, after a cagey first half, the second period of the match turned farcical following some highly controversial decisions and timekeeping by Zambian referee Janny Sikazwe.
Mali won the match 1-0 thanks to a second-half penalty by Ibrahima Kone but it was the referee who will make the headlines, for all the wrong reasons. Sikazwe – who has been suspended before on allegations of corruption – gave two highly-controversial penalties, flashed an even more debatable red card and blew the full-time whistle twice – once after 85 minutes and the second time with 11 seconds of normal time still left to play.
The tournament officials tried to restart the match – 40 minutes after it ‘ended’ – but Tunisian players did not take the field. Here is how the drama unfolded in the Cameroonian city of Limbe.
48’: Controversial penalty – goal
The referee awards a controversial penalty to Mali after Tunisian midfielder Ellyes Skhiri blocks a shot from Boubakar Kouyaté with his arms. Tunisia protested, arguing the arm was in its natural position but the referee didn’t budge. Ibrahima Kone takes the penalty and sends goalkeeper Bechir Ben Said the wrong way to give Mali the lead.
75’: Controversial penalty – missed
This time, Sikazwe awards a controversial penalty to Tunisia after the ball hits the arm of a Mali defender. Once again, it looks like the arm was in its natural position and the referee is asked by the VAR to take a look at the pitchside screen. After looking at the replays, Sikazwe points to the spot. However, Wahbi Khazri shot is palmed away by goalkeeper Ibrahim Mounkoro.
Referee Janny Sikazwe ends Tunisia vs Mali early despite two VAR checks, a red card, and a cooling break.
Tunisia, who were trailing 1-0 but with a man advantage, weren’t too happy about it…
— MailOnline Sport (@MailSport) January 12, 2022
Have you EVER seen anything like it…🤯
▪ Referee ends match early…
▪ Press conferences interrupted as AFCON officials say match must resume!
▪ Referee changed for final three minutes…
▪ Tunisia fail to return to the pitch!
Unbelievable, Jeff. 😳 pic.twitter.com/6upfMz3ZID
— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) January 12, 2022
85’: Full time
As Tunisia presses ahead in a desperate search for the equalising goal, Sikazwe looks at his watch and blows the full-time whistle. With no timer in the stadium, and nothing on the giant screen, the game is halted and the players appear confused, while the Tunisian dugout is up in arms. After realising his mistake, the referee signals for the play to continue.
87’: Controversial red card
Mali’s El Bilal Toure is shown a straight red card for a late tackle on Dylan Bronn. Most referees wouldn’t even have given a yellow, so the sending off infuriates the Mali bench. The VAR steps in and advises Sikazwe to review his decision. The referee takes a look and sticks to his decision, much to the disbelief of the players. Mali are reduced to 10 men with at least three minutes remaining.
89:49’: Full time
With the regular time coming to an end, the fourth official looks set to signal added time but Sikazwe doesn’t wait for it and blows the full-time whistle once again, this time with 11 seconds remaining. Tunisia coach Mondher Kebaier and the rest of the coaching staff storm onto the pitch and charge towards the referee, pointing at their watches. In an instant, the match officials are surrounded by security guards for their protection and are ushered off the pitch.
📹 𝐇𝐈𝐆𝐇𝐋𝐈𝐆𝐇𝐓𝐒: 🇹🇳 0-1 🇲🇱
— #TotalEnergiesAFCON2021 🏆 (@CAF_Online) January 12, 2022
Twenty minutes after the ‘full-time’ whistle, Mali coach Mohamed Magassouba was speaking at the post-match press conference when the Confederation of African Football officials interrupted the proceedings, implying that the remaining time would be played out. A full 40 minutes later, it was decided that the match would indeed resume.
Mali players re-emerged on the pitch and fourth official Helder Martins de Carvalho replaced Sikazwe as the main referee. However, Tunisians did not turn up. After waiting for a while, Carvalho blew the final whistle – for the third time in the match – and brought an end to a highly-controversial match.
Peter Walton: “The ref got it spot on.” https://t.co/ncjy5D1MCc
— Charles Watts (@charles_watts) January 12, 2022
‘Players were taking ice bath’
Tunisia’s coach Kebaier called the referee’s decisions ‘inexplicable’ and said his players were taking ice baths when they were recalled on the pitch. “The players were taking ice baths for 35 minutes before they were called back out again,” Kebaier said, according to Reuters. “I’ve been coaching for a long time and have never seen anything like it. Even the fourth official was preparing to lift the board (to show how many minutes of injury-time) and then the whistle was blown.”
Referee’s tainted past
This isn’t the first time Sikazwe has been embroiled in a controversy. An experienced referee, he has officiated the 2016 Club World Cup final, the 2017 African Cup of Nations final between Cameroon and Egypt and two games at the 2018 World Cup, Belgium vs Panama and Japan vs Poland. However, he was suspended in November 2018 by the CAF on suspicion of corruption during an African Champions League match between Esperance and Primiero Agosto. Esperance won the match 4-2. However, Sikazwe had awarded them a controversial penalty, which led to their first goal and later ruled out an Agosto goal for a perceived foul. His suspension was lifted by FIFA in January 2019.
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