AFCON 2021 was going on smoothly until Wednesday when a Group F match between Tunisia and Mali was marred by confusion and chaos as the referee ended the match twice before 90’ despite having had stoppages during the game.
The official in the middle of the drama was Janny Sikazwe a Zambian international football referee. The Zambian official caused controversy as he first ended the game in the 85th minute, before again whistling before the 90-minute mark. This was met by discontent and havoc in the Tunisian camp with officials stomping the pitch demanding answers from the referee. The referee and his assistance had to be surrounded and escorted away by the security.
They were suggestions that the final minutes of the match would be resumed, despite the game having ended. CAF officials contemplated the idea of a resumption. About 20 minutes later, Mali players came back into the pitch willing to play the last minutes of the match, however, Tunisia reportedly refused and the match officially ended as Tunisia 0 Mali 1.
The match at Limbe Stadium had several minutes of stoppages which could have been covered during extra time. The referee had also stopped the match to give players ‘cooling’ time as the temperatures were high at 34 and 65% humid.
Ibrahima Kone scored a penalty two minutes into the second half after Ellyes Joris Skhiri was adjudged to have handled the ball inside the area. Tunisia had a penalty of their own 15 minutes from time, but captain Wahbi Khazri saw his effort saved by goalkeeper Bosso Ibrahim who became Man of the Match.
Mali were reduced to 10 men in the closing stages following El Bilal Toure’s challenge on Skhiri. The red card was challenged and even after VAR, the referee maintained that El Bilal be sent off.
Ibrahim Bosso, Mali goalkeeper (Man of the Match)
“The strength of our team has been solidarity. We joined hands for this collective victory. It is very important to start well. Stopping that penalty gives the team a boost. “
Mohamed Magassouba, coach of Mali:
“We wanted to resume to play the remaining minutes but Tunisia did not want to resume, the referee then whistled the end of the game. We demystified the match, we managed with rationality the occupation of the field, the transmissions. Of course the ambition is to get the cup, we say it with humility, wishful thinking “
Mondher Kebaier, coach of Tunisia:
“The referee blew the whistle at the 85 minute mark at the 89 minute mark, it’s lunar. He deprived us of concentration. We did not want to resume because the players had already taken their baths, deconcentrated and demoralized in the face of this gruesome situation. “
Janny Sikazwe, 43, who is also a teacher by profession, got his big break in 2008 at COSAFA U-20 Challenge Cup in South Africa when he was called to replace another referee who had failed a fitness test.
Sikazwe, refereed at the 2018 World Cup, and his officiating was called into question during a CAF Champions League semi-final clash between Tunisian side Esperance and Angolan club Primeiro de Agosto. Esperance would win the game 4-2, with Sikazwe awarding a controversial penalty to the hosts before he later disallowed an Agosto goal. On 20 November 2018, he got provisionally suspended by the CAF Disciplinary Board on suspicion of corruption following the match..
A statement from Caf that was released at the time read: “The chairman of the Caf disciplinary board decides that there is good ground to hold a hearing regarding allegations of corruption made against Mr Janny Sikazwe.
“Mr Janny Sikazwe is provisionally suspended from all football activities related to CAF pending a hearing before CAF Disciplinary Board.
Referee Sikazwe was one of the referees for the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations in Equatorial Guinea. He refereed the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup final in Japan, and the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations final in Gabon. He was selected to officiate at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia, and made his debut in the Belgium vs Panama Group G game on 18 June to become the first Zambian referee to officiate a game at the FIFA World Cup finals.
CAF has not yet issued a statement regarding the Tunisia and Mali game.