Chaos at Afcon as referee twice ends Mali against Tunisia game too early

Match ends in 1-0 win for Mali but will be remembered for disastrous timekeeping of official

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There were chaotic scenes at the Africa Cup of Nations on Wednesday after the referee twice blew the final whistle too early in the Group F game between Mali and Tunisia.

Zambian Janny Sikazwe, who officiated at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, initially blew for the game to end on 85 minutes, before checking his timings and continuing, with Mali 1-0 up. Then he signalled the end of the match in the 90th minute before adding on any additional time for stoppages.

Furious Tunisian staff and officials stormed the pitch to remonstrate with the referee as confusion reigned at the Limbe Omnisport Stadium in Cameroon. The match officials were given an escort by stadium security as the Malians celebrated with the fans, but the controversy did not end there.

The man of the match trophy was handed out and the post-match news conferences in full swing before Confederation of African Football (CAF) officials decided the remaining minutes should be played.

Mali came out on to the pitch again 40 minutes after the controversy began, but Tunisia refused to play on and Sikazwe ended the game for a third time.

“The players were taking ice baths for 35 minutes before they were called back out again,” Tunisia manager Mondher Kebaier told reporters.

“I’ve been coaching for a long time 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.

“His decision is inexplicable. I can't understand how he made his decision and we will see what happens now. In 30 years in this business I have never seen anything like it.”

The astonishing scenes overshadowed what should have been a proud day for Mali, who won the game thanks to Ibrahima Kone's penalty just after half-time, awarded when Boubacar Kiki Kouyate’s shot struck the hand of Elyas Skhiri.

Tunisia had the chance to equalise with a penalty of their own in the second half after Southampton’s Moussa Djenepo was also penalised for handball, but Ibrahim Mounkoro saved from Wahbi Khazri.

Mali finished the game with 10 players when El Bilal Toure was shown a red card when he was fractionally late with a challenge on Dylan Bronn.

“These are administrative questions. We were told to go back on the pitch because the game was not finished,” said Magassouba. “Unfortunately, the opposition team did not want to come back out and the final whistle was blown.”

Updated: January 12, 2022, 5:51 PM