March 31 – African football has been hit by yet another Covid-related controversy after Benin refused to play a decisive African Cup of Nations qualifying game in Sierra Leone after disputing that five of its players had tested positive just before kick-off.
After arriving at the National Stadium in Freetown for their final Group L game on Tuesday, the Benin team refused to leave their bus after being told that a raft of their squad would be barred from playing after tests showed they had tested positive for coronavirus.
Benin, who claim to have taken tests 72 hours earlier which produced negative results for all of the squad, did not accept the results and refused to play.
The Sierra Leone Football Association announced the game had been cancelled and that the Confederation of African Football would have to make a ruling on what happens next. The Benin squad was reportedly already heading for the airport to take a flight home and talks between the three parties failed to resolve the standoff
Rows over Covid-19 tests have plagued African football since last year with host national teams and clubs accused of producing false positive results to deprive opponents of stars.
The farcical situation left the final place at next year’s finals undecided on the last day of qualifying. Sierra Leone needed to win at home to reach the tournament for the first time in 25 years. Benin needed only a draw.
There were five qualifying places up for grabs and Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau and Mauritania took four with Benin or Sierra Leone set to join them.
Ivory Coast’s game against Ethiopia ended early after the Ghanaian referee collapsed 10 minutes from time and had to be taken off on a stretcher. The fourth official was from Ivory Coast and couldn’t therefore officiate.
Ivory Coast were winning 3-1 and although Ethiopia’s football federation said the match would be called off, both teams qualified as Ethiopia went through when Madagascar drew 0-0 with Niger.
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