Bizarre referees throw Africa Cup of Nations in farce, overshadowing game

The Africa Cup of Nations sank on Wednesday when Mali beat Tunisia 1-0 in a match that was stopped prematurely by the referee, who later tried to restart the game just because the Tunisians would refuse to take back the pitch.

Experienced Zambian official Janny Sikazwe, who took charge of the 2017 Cup of Nations final, initially blew the final whistle after 85 minutes when he got his timing completely wrong in Limbe.

But after then playing on, he repeated the mistake when he blew for full time, again before the clock had ticked over to 90 minutes.

Tunisia was furious and officials stormed onto the pitch in protest, but the man-trophy of the match was handed out and the post-match press conferences were in full swing before Confederation of African Footballs (CAF) officials decided that four extra minutes would be played.

Mali came on the field again 40 minutes after the controversy began, but Tunisia refused to continue playing and Sikazwe ended the match for a third time.

“The players took an ice bath for 35 minutes before being called back,” Tunisian coach Mondher Kebaier told reporters.

“I have trained for a long time, never seen anything like it.”

The match was also a story of two penalties when Mali’s forward Ibrahima Kone repeated his attempt, but Tunisia’s Wahbi Khazri could not follow as his effort was saved by goalkeeper Ibrahima Mounkoro 13 minutes after time.

Sikazwe sent out Mali striker El Bilal Toure when he was a fraction late with a challenge in what appeared to be a tough decision.

Debutants Gambia joined Mali at the top of Group F after winning their first match in the final, 1-0 for Mauritania.

The second match of the double nod in Limbe started 45 minutes late due to the previous farce but the delay did not stop Gambia, who went on after 10 minutes when Ablie Jallow scored from the edge of the penalty area.

Gambia could have won with more goals but was denied by sharp goalkeeper play from Babacar Diop.

Also on Wednesday, Ivory Coast beat Equatorial Guinea as expected in Douala, but with only one goal.

Captain Max-Alain Gradel scored in the sixth minute, which increased the number of high-quality long-range attacks in the net during the tournament.

On Thursday, hosts Cameroon can advance to the last 16 if they beat Ethiopia in Yaounde, followed by Burkina Faso against Cape Verde at Olembe Stadium.


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