Afcon 2021: Café rejects Tunisian complaint about premature end of match

Mondher Kebaier (right) protests to officials
Tunisia coach Mondher Kebaier (right) protests to match officials after their game ends early

The Confederation of African Football (Caf) has rejected a formal complaint filed by the Tunisian Football Federation (FTF) over their game with Mali ending 13 seconds earlier.

Café also confirmed the result of Wednesday’s match as a 1-0 win over Mali, that was the score when Zambian umpire Janny Sikazwe, who is believed to have suffered sunstroke, blew early.

He had already whistled full-time after 85 minutes, to notice his mistake and continue the game.

Earlier on Thursday, FTF official Hussein Jenaieh had insisted: “We will do whatever it takes to defend the rights of the national team. We are not children.”

FTF media official Kais Reguez declined to go into details when asked about the nature of Tunisia’s complaint, which he confirmed.

Match referee Sikazwe reportedly had to go to hospital to recover after the game, so the fourth official would take charge of a failed attempt to restart the game more than 20 minutes later.

While Mali showed up, Tunisia did not, as some of their players took ice baths.

“The referee had heatstroke, which affected his decisions in the game,” Caf referee Essam Abdul Fattah told Egyptian media. “After the game he had to go to the hospital because the weather was so hot.”

After their unexpected 0-0 draw against Sierra Leone, defending champions Algeria blamed the heat in Cameroon.

How a farce evolved?

Tunisia, the 2004 champions, entered the tournament knowing that a young and vibrant Mali side would likely be their main group rival.

Only five minutes behind in regulation time, they were stunned when referee Sikazwe blew full-time.

The Zambian later checked his timing and continued the game, sending a Malian player off in the meantime, only to blow up the clock at 89 minutes 47 seconds.

In extraordinary scenes, the Mali coach’s “post-match” press conference was interrupted as it was announced that the match would have to start over to finish, which it never did.

“They asked us to get back on the pitch, but we didn’t – we had no idea what was going on,” Tunisia defender Bilel Ifa told reporters.

“We hope the game will be replayed. The referee had no idea what was going on since the start of the game.”

Tunisia’s assistant coach was furious at both the incident and the potential reputational damage to the African game.

“Unfortunately we can’t see things like this at this high level in Africa – African Football cannot progress like this,” Tunisia’s assistant coach Jalel Kadri told reporters.

“The referee was ‘shaken’ today. He was even hesitant to check the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), he didn’t even know how to get to the VAR.”

Complete chaos

Tunisian backroom staff protest with referee Janny Sikazwe
Tunisian backroom staff protested with Sikazwe (left) on the pitch after he blew prematurely for full-time

Zambian official Sikazwe refereed two group stage matches at the 2018 World Cup in Russia and took charge of the 2017 Nations Cup final.

His reported sunstroke would explain much of the chaos that followed from the 85th minute.

“We didn’t understand anything in the 85th minute – we were in shock,” added Kadri.

“We spoke to the fourth official who said there was miscommunication between him and the head referee who may have misunderstood him. We resumed the game only for him to whistle again in the 89th minute.”

“We went to the fourth official who agreed that the game was still not over,” FTF official Jenaiah told reporters.

“We complained that it was the second time that the referee had stopped the game early.

“The fourth official said at first that the game would be resumed, but when he went to the referee, he said: ‘No, I whistled, the game is over’.”

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