Sports

Referee can’t keep time in Mali-Tunisia AFCON match

Tunisia’s head coach Mondher Kebaier, center left, cannot believe referee Janny Sikazwe blew the whistle early in his team’s match against Mali.

Tunisia’s head coach Mondher Kebaier, center left, cannot believe referee Janny Sikazwe blew the whistle early in his team’s match against Mali.
Image: AP

The African Cup of Nations gets a rough ride from most of the soccer world, and it’s mostly because of its place in the calendar. It deprives several clubs in Europe of some of their best players for most of January every two years, which isn’t exactly met with acceptance and gratitude. So it can act as a launch point for some pretty tired and dog whistle-y criticisms of the tournament and African soccer as a whole. Disorganization, a lower level of play, doesn’t mean as much, yadda yadda yadda. Most of it is just sour grapes. All of these players and countries have just as much right to play for their continent’s biggest championship as anywhere else. And Cameroon, this year’s host, has a monsoon season in the summer, so kind of has to be now.

That doesn’t mean AFCON is above all weirdness and hilarity, and it definitely got a slice of CONCACAF-like refereeing today in Mali’s 1-0 win over Tunisia. You’d think the first requirement of a ref is to know how to read a clock, or even better and easier, a digital watch. It would seem Zambian ref Janny Sikazwe failed this criterion.

Sikazwe blew for full time, the first time (oh this is going to get real special), with the clock reading 85 minutes.

Perhaps realizing his error, or maybe figuring out why both teams were in utter shock, Sikazwe restarted the match. In the remaining five minutes (or what should have been five minutes, but hang on), Sikazwe found time to send off Mali’s El Bilal Toure. However, the video assistant referee called on him to review the sending off, because it hardly looked like a red card offense. Almost universally, when the ref is called to review something on screen by the VAR official, he’s going to reverse his original call. But not our man Sikazwe, who stuck with his original call and reduced Mali to 10 men.

And then, with about 15 seconds left on the clock before 90 minutes, he blew for the final whistle again. That’s after a second half that saw a penalty, a sending off, two VAR reviews, and a water break. After all that, Sikazwe’s determination for injury time was minus 15 seconds. Unique, you’d have to admit. That’s probably not the word the Tunisians, and really even the Mali players and staff, would use either.

We weren’t finished. After both coaches had held their postgame pressers and the players had changed, some 30 minutes after the game “ended,” AFCON officials wanted the last three minutes replayed with proper injury time. Malian players headed back onto the field, but Tunisian ones refused. Which meant that Sikazwe got to blow for the final whistle a third time.

In case you were curious, Sikazwe was thought highly enough of in the reffing ranks to work the World Cup in 2018 in Russia for FIFA. Somehow doubt that’s going to happen again. Then again, it is FIFA.

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