AFCON: Tough day in the sun for referee Sikwaze, CAF and Tunisia

January 14 – The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has confirmed Mali’s 1-0 Africa Cup of Nations victory over Tunisia, rejecting the North Africans’ appeal about the match ending before full-time.

Zambian referee Janny Sikwaze (pictured) was at the heart of all the controversy in the Group F match when he blew the full-time whistle twice before the clock showed that the 90 minutes were up. He brought the match to a close with 13 seconds left and without adding any injury time, leading to furious protests from the Tunisians, who lost the match 1-0.

The continental governing body however has waved away Tunisia’s formal complaint but failed to offer any explanation for its decision.  “After examining the protest of Tunisia and all the match officials report, the Organising Committee decided the following: to dismiss the protest lodged by the Tunisian team. To homologate the match result as 1-0 in favour of Mali,” wrote CAF in a statement.

The confederation remained silent on the fate of Sikwaze. However, various reports suggest that the referee suffered from a heat stroke, leading to his confused refereeing in the latter stages of the match.

Chaos ensued in Limbe. The coach and officials of Tunisia stormed the pitch to demand an explanation from Sikwaze who was escorted off the pitch by security personnel.

The match had already seen controversy with both teams being awarded a penalty – Ibrahima Kone scored for Mali whilst Tunisia missed – and a red card was also shown to the Carthage Eagles’ El Bilal Toure in the closing stages, with the referee deciding to stick to his original decision despite being asked to review it by VAR.

With both teams off the pitch, organisers ordered for the remaining minutes of the match to be completed, but the Tunisians refused to return from the dressing room.

“The players were taking ice baths for 35 minutes before they were called back out again,” said Tunisia coach Mondher Kebaier at a news conference. ‘I’ve been coaching for a long time never seen anything like it. Even the 4th referee was preparing to lift the board and then the whistle was blown.”

CAF refereeing official Essam Abdul Fattah was quoted as saying: “The referee had sunstroke, which affected his decisions in the game. After the game, he needed to go hospital because the weather was so hot.”

The saga embarrassed CAF on a difficult day in the competition. Organisers failed to play Mauritania’s national anthem properly before the country’s match with Gambia, and, more worryingly, security concerns in Bua, where both Gambia and Mali have their basecamps, grew.

On Sunday, Mali take on Gambia.  The Tunisians will need a result against Mauritania to get their tournament back on track.

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