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Afcon 2021: Tunisia-Mali game descends into farce as referee ends game early

Zambian referee Janny Sikazwe blew his final whistle in the 85th minute and then again in the 89th
Tunisia coach Mondher Kebaier remonstrates with referee Janny Sikazwe after the match (Reuters)

The Africa Cup of Nations Group F game between Mali and Tunisia descended into farce on Wednesday after Zambian referee Janny Sikazwe blew his whistle for full time after 85 minutes and then again after 89 minutes, without adding any stoppage time. 

Sikazwe had to be escorted from the pitch by security after Tunisia's manager Mondher Kebaier and his backroom staff stormed onto the field to confront him. A furious Kebaier chased Sikazwe and his assistants across the turf, shouting at them as he went. 

Mali, who had forward El Bilal Toure sent off in the 87th minute in what appeared to be another bizarre decision, won the game 1-0, after a 48th-minute penalty from Ibrahima Kone. Tunisia's Wahbi Khazri missed a penalty. 

With a series of interruptions throughout the second half, everyone was expecting there to be plenty of stoppage time beyond the 90 minutes. 

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Instead, Sikazwe decided to end the game before the 90 minutes were even up.

The players left the pitch, but then, after the start of the post-match press conference, tournament organisers ordered them back on to play the rest of the game. When Mali's players returned and Tunisia's did not, Mali were awarded the victory. 

Kebaier said of his team's refusal to return to the pitch: "The players were taking ice baths for 35 minutes before they were called back out again. I’ve been coaching for a long time and never seen anything like it. Even the fourth referee was preparing to lift the board and then the whistle was blown."

This is not the first time Sikazwe has been at the heart of controversy. In November 2018 he was suspended by the Confederation of African Football (CAF) on suspicion of corruption.

Concerns arose about his refereeing of a CAF Champions League semi-final between Esperance and Primeiro Agosto. Sikazwe awarded Tunisian club Esperance a controversial penalty and ruled out a goal by Primeiro Agosto, an Angolan club. 

The Zambian referee's suspension was lifted in January 2019 by Fifa.