Football

Tunisia v Mali Referee Blows Up Early Twice At Ludicrous Africa Cup Of Nations Game

Tunisia v Mali Referee Blows Up Early Twice At Ludicrous Africa Cup Of Nations Game

There were truly farcical scenes at the Africa Cup of Nations on Wednesday afternoon, as the referee for Tunisia v Mali gave one of the worst officiating displays we can remember.

In a game that included two penalties, a red card, and multiple VAR checks, referee Janny Sikazwe blew the final whistle early - not once, but twice.

Tunisia v Mali: Surreal scenes as referee blows up early at AFCON

The football on show at the Africa Cup of Nations has been steady if unspectacular, with stars like Riyad Mahrez and Mo Salah struggling to make an impact and goals hard to come by as the tournament gets underway.

The first major drama of the month came with a bang on Wednesday, as Tunisia faced off with Mali in the Cameroonian city of Limbé.

Tunisia, winners of the competition in 2004 and participants at the most recent World Cup in 2018, would have expected to come out on top in the Group F clash, but Mali sprung a surprise and led for most of the second half after a 48th minute penalty from Ibrahima Koné.

With just under a quarter of an hour to play, Tunisia threw away a golden chance to level things up, when Wahbi Khazri missed a penalty of his own. Both penalties naturally required VAR reviews and, with the usual stoppages, injury time would have been expected.

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That was until referee Sikazwe blew the final whistle in the 85th minute, seemingly bringing a premature end to the match. After both teams naturally protested, the game restarted once again - only for Sikazwe to once again blow up early, with 17 seconds of the 90 minutes still to play and no chance for the fourth official to declare any injury time.

There were wry grins on the faces of the Mali players, and rage on those of the Tunisia team, as everyone in the stadium attempted to figure out what had gone so badly wrong for the referee to blow his final whistle so early.

To add to the madness, in the four minutes played after the first restart, Mali's El Bali Touré had been sent off - surely only adding to any potential injury time that would have been played.

Astonishingly, the second premature final whistle wasn't even the end of the drama. Sikazwe, seemingly realising his error, attempted to get both teams to return to the field of play, with Malian manager Mohamed Magassouba's press conference interrupted by tournament officials announcing the decision to restart the game.

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Mali's players returned to the pitch, but Tunisia seemingly refused to reappear, casting doubt over how the result will be recorded.

The refereeing in Mali v Tunisia was the first big flashpoint of the African Cup of Nations, and it couldn't have happened in much more controversial or dramatic fashion.

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For Irish sporting fans, the frenzy around the game's premature end has a funny familiarity, and will remind hurling fans in particular of the controversy around the 1998 All-Ireland senior men's semi-final, when referee Jimmy Cooney mistakenly blew up five minutes before the end of the game between Clare and Offaly.

Tunisia v Mali Offaly Clare 22 August 1998; Clare Fans look on as Offaly supporters protest after the referee ended the match 3 mins early , Clare v Offaly Replay, Croke Park. Photo by David Maher/Sportsfile

Security were needed to escort referee Sikazwe from the pitch at the final whistle in Cameroon. This is not the first time the Zambian referee has been embroiled in controversy. He was suspended just over three years ago after claims of corruption followed his refereeing of a CAF Champions League match.

We imagine we haven't heard the last of this controversy by any means.

SEE ALSO: Remembering The Best Same-Nation Clashes In The Champions League

Champions League

Eoin Harrington

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