Africa-Press – Lesotho. There were incredible scenes during Mali’s 1-0 win over Tunisia at the Africa Cup of Nations as the referee twice blew for full-time before the end of the match – and Tunisia players then refused to return to the pitch to play out the final few minutes.
The match should have been about two penalties, one of which was scored by Mali’s Ibrahima Kone in the 48th minute and one which was saved by Ibrahim Mounkoro from Wahbi Khazri late in the game.
While the penalty decisions were debatable – both were given for handball – there was far more controversy to come in the final stages of the match. First, the referee blew his whistle for full-time with five minutes still remaining on the clock.
The error was quickly spotted as players and coaching staff looked confused and referee Janny Sikazwe of Zambia signalled for play to continue. Sikazwe then reduced Tunisia to 10 men when he showed a straight red card to El Bilal Toure.
Even though replays showed the decision looked harsh, it was not overturned when the referee watched it again on the pitchside monitor. With Tunisia pushing for a winner the game was then ended by the referee when the clock showed 89 minutes and 42 seconds.
Tunisia’s manager and backroom staff were incensed by the decision and ran onto the pitch to remonstrate with the referee, pointing at their watches. However, this time the referee did not restart the game and was ushered off the pitch along with his assistants.
One possible explanation given for the incorrect time keeping was that Sikazwe, who was in charge for the 2017 AFCON final, forgot to stop his watch at the water break. There was more drama to follow as, 20 minutes after the game had finished, it was reported that it would be restarted again.
Mounkoro had already accepted his man-of-the-match award and Mali coach Mohamed Magassouba was midway through his press conference when tournament officials said that the game would start again.
However, there were soon reports that both teams were refusing to return to the pitch as fans waited in the stands. Eventually Mali did come back onto the pitch, seemingly ready to play again, but Tunisia were nowhere to be seen.
It was reported that they refused to play the final few minutes in protest and will instead lodge a complaint. The late drama topped anything that happened during another low-scoring match.
Only one of the 10 games played so far has seen more than goal scored, the opening clash of the tournament which Cameroon won 2-1. Mauritania face Gambia in the other game in Group F on Wednesday afternoon.