Ref end AFCON match after 89 minutes

Zambia referee, Janny Sikazwe

Referees have had to be escorted off the pitch after the referee blew the final whistle in Tunisia’s defeat by Mali twice before 90 minutes had been played, during a furious reaction from the former.

The referee blew the final whistle after just 85 minutes before restarting play, but then blew again with just 89 minutes and 43 seconds of the Group F clash between the two sides in the Africa Cup of Nations gone.

That drew a furious reaction from Tunisia’s bench, with boss Mondher Kebaier furiously grabbing the arm of Zambia referee Janny Sikazwe and pointing to his watch in the immediate aftermath of the full-time whistle.

The Tunisia head coach was then joined by his backroom staff in protesting, with Kebaier even confronting one of the linesmen to complain about the game being brought to a premature end.

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Soon enough, security staff had surrounded Sikazwe and his two officials at the Limbe Stadium in Cameroon and holding off any complaints from Tunisia’s staff.

And once the latter were ushered away by the security personnel, they then escorted those officiating the game off the pitch shortly afterwards.

Mali coach Mohamed Magassouba’s post-match press conference was then interrupted, with Confederation of African Football officials barging in and saying the match will be re-started to play out the final three minutes.

And that would appear to be just if that is how it plays out, with Tunisia seemingly making a valid point with two VAR checks taking place during the Group F clash.

The first VAR review took place with less than 15 minutes of the game remaining, when the technology awarded a penalty to Tunisia, only for Wahbi Khazri to see his effort saved by Mali goalkeeper Ibrahima Mounkoro 13 minutes from time.

Eight minutes later Sikazwe blew the first of his final whistles, only to then correct his mistake and allow the game to resume.

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But two minutes later there was yet more drama when El Bilal Toure – brought on by Mali in the 81st minute for Southampton’s Moussa Djenepo – was shown a very harsh red card by Sikazwe.

The decision went to VAR, who recommended the referee reverse his decision of dismissing Toure, but Sikazwe stuck by his decision and gave the Reims forward his marching orders.

Then to compound Tunisia’s fury, Sikazwe blew up with more than 20 seconds of normal time remaining, with no injury time added.

Mali therefore continued their run of never losing the first game of an AFCON campaign, with Ibrahima Kone’s penalty sealing a 1-0 victory, for the time being at least.