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AFCON 2021: Controversy as referee ends Tunisia vs Mali match before 90 minutes

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The ongoing African Cup of Nations in Cameroon is already serving up the good, bad and ugly.

Day 4 of AFCON 2021 witnessed quite absurd scenes during the Tunisia and Mali encounter when the centre referee, Janny Sikazwe, from Zambia, blew for the final whistle in the 85th minute of the match.

Sikazwe then compounded his mistake by adding just four minutes and 40 seconds before blowing the final whistle, which sparked a furious outburst from the Tunisia bench led by the manager, Mondher Kebaier.

While there have been pockets of complaints on the low-scoring matches, Wednesday’s first fixture, dubbed a battle of Eagles as the two opposing teams are nicknamed after the high-soaring bird, the Group F tie failed to produce any goal in the first half.

In the end, the Eagles of Mali won the match 1-0 but it descended into chaos in the dying moments with inexplicable controversial actions by the referee during the match.

This followed a red card issued to Mali substitute El Bilal Toure in the 87th minute. VAR officials suggested he overturn his decision because it seemed too harsh for the offence committed but Sikazwe stood his ground.

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Then the hasty final whistle came despite two lengthy VAR checks during the second half – the first of which was to award Tunisia a penalty, which Wahbi Khazri missed.

Unsurprisingly, Tunisia were absolutely furious with the referee at full-time!

According to sources in Cameroon, the post-match conference of the Mali coach was disrupted by CAF officials who ordered that the final three minutes of the game with Tunisia should be played.

It was gathered that while Mali obliged to have the last three minutes played, the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia stuck to their gun not to get back to the pitch.

It is yet to be seen how CAF will resolve this avoidable situation which has caused AFCON ridicule and validates the notion that Africa’s flagship tournament is a small tournament.

Gambia and Mauritania are the other members in Group F with Tunisia and Mali.

This is not the first time Sikazwe has been at the centre of a controversy as he was suspended by CAF in November 2018 after he refereed an African Champions League match between Esperance and Primiero Agosto, riddled with controversies.

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After the match, CAF released a statement that read, “The chairman of the Caf Disciplinary Board decides that there is good ground to hold a hearing regarding allegations of corruption made against Mr. Janny Sikazwe.

“Mr. Janny Sikazwe is provisionally suspended from all football activities related to Caf pending a hearing before Caf Disciplinary Board.”

Sikazwe is a FIFA-badged referee who was the centre referee for two matches at the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

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