Controversy, drama grab headlines as Afcon gathers pace

Tunisia's coach Mondher Kebaier (right) protests against Zambia referee Janny Sikazwe

Tunisia's coach Mondher Kebaier (right) protests against Zambia referee Janny Sikazwe during the Group 'F' Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) 2021 match between Tunisia and Mali at Limbe Omnisport Stadium in Limbe on January 12, 2022.
 

Photo credit: Issouf Sanogo | AFP

What you need to know:

  • Sikazwe first sounded his whistle indicating the end of the game between Mali and favourites Tunisia at the 85th minute, but action resumed after the error
  • After several minutes of unsuccessful trials to get the real anthem, Mauritania players were asked to sing without the music but captain Aboubakar Kamara could be seen shaking his head in disagreement
  • Another controversial issue at the group stage of the 33rd edition of Afcon in Cameroon has been suspicion around Covid tests seemingly used as "a weapon against some teams" by having majority of their players test positive hence ruled out of key matches

In Yaounde

Zambian international referee, Janny Sikazwe, 42, has come under heavy criticism after he controversially ended a group stage match at the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon before regular play time at the Omnisport stadium in the coastal town of Limbe on Wednesday.

The referee first sounded his whistle indicating the end of the game between Mali and favourites Tunisia at the 85th minute, but action resumed after the error. However, before players and fans could enjoy the last and crucial moments of the game, the Zambian official again blew his whistle about 13 seconds before 90th minute (89 minutes 47 seconds) controversially putting an end to the first Group 'F' clash where Mali were leading by 1-0.

The scandalous act sparked fury among the coaching staff and players of goal-hungry Tunisians who were struggling and hoping for a last-minute goal that could see them salvage a draw.

As Sikazwe, a 2015 CAF Referee of the Year nominee who was suspended from involvement in African football in 2018 on suspicion of corruption, was ending the game, video footage showed fourth referee gesticulating as if he was preparing to lift the board for stoppage time to be added.

About 20 minutes after the match had ended and officials escorted to the dressing room by security officers amidst anger and protests by players and coaching staff of Tunisia, The Eagles of Mali returned to the pitch looking willing to play out the remaining minutes, but the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia were nowhere to be seen.

“In relation to the TotalEnergies Africa Cup of Nations match between Tunisia and Mali played in Limbe on January 12, 2022, CAF is gathering all the necessary reports from the officials at the match,” the continental football body said in a statement on Thursday.

“CAF is forwarding these documents to the competent bodies of the organization. At this stage, CAF is not in a position to make further comment until the responsible bodies indicate the way forward,” CAF added.

The bizarre officiating of the Group 'F' match by Sikazwe is just one of the controversies that have greeted the 33rd edition of the tournament in Cameroon.

Wrong national anthem

In a second Group 'F' match between Mauritania and debutants Gambia, things did not also go well as a wrong anthem was played twice for Mauritania following what the stadium announcer said was a problem with the sound system.

After several minutes of unsuccessful trials to get the real anthem, the players were asked to sing without the music but captain Aboubakar Kamara could be seen shaking his head in disagreement and they just clapped in a mock joy that usually follow the singing of the anthem. The national anthem of Gambia would later be played without any hitches and the newcomers went on to win the game.

Prior to the first Group 'F' match, two civilians were killed allegedly by armed separatist fighters who had called for and wanted to reinforce a boycott of the games in the conflict-plagued Anglophone region of the country.

Insecurity

There have been security concerns around the tournament especially in the Anglophone region where armed separatists pushing for the secession of minority English speakers from the majority French speaking country had pledged to disrupt the competition.

The incident in the nearby town of Buea where The Gambia and Mali are lodged occurred just as the two teams left for Omnisport stadium for their Group 'F' matches in Limbe which is just an hour's drive away. The Gambian and Malian national teams were given military escort as they arrived at their hotel in Buea from Douala where they landed at the weekend.

Africa Cup of Nations Round 1 Team of the week. sofascore.com|

Local daily newspaper, The Guardian Post reported that about 50 armed separatist fighters stormed the town and opened fire, prompting a retaliation from the military. The paper identified those killed as a taxi driver and a passenger. It said six other people including a lawyer were wounded during the confrontation. Another newspaper, The Post which is based in Buea reported that the gun battle left four people dead.

The Anglophone region of Cameroon has remained volatile since an industrial strike by lawyers and teachers morphed into an armed conflict with rebels pushing for the secession of the minority English speakers from the majority French-speaking central African country.

More than 3,500 people have been killed and nearly a million displaced since 2017 as a result of the bloody conflict, according to statistics by humanitarian organisations. On Tuesday, a prominent opposition member of parliament was killed in Bamenda, in the neighboring sister English-speaking region of the North West.

Despite the exchange of gunfire between the rebels and the military, the two Group 'F' games however went on as planned with Mali and new comers Gambia recording victories. The two teams are based in Buea where they also hold their training sessions.

Earlier at the weekend in Douala, Cameroon’s economic hub, a group of Algerian journalists covering the continental tournament came under attack by robbers armed with daggers.

CAF, organisers of the 33rd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations tournament, said Cameroonian police were investigating the attack during which victims were dispossessed of their personal gadgets including phones and money. Two of the three victims were hurt and admitted in a hospital in the city.

The new president of the Cameroon Football Federation, (Fecafoot), Samuel Eto’o Fils condemned the act and apologised to the Algerian Football Federation promising he was going to talk to Cameroonian authorities to beef up security around lodging and hosting sites of the tournament.

CAF said the safety of every individual attending the tournament is a priority for both the continental soccer body and the government of Cameroon.

Despite the act though, Algerian journalists trailing the defending champions said they will continue their coverage of the competition. The defending champions were held by Sierra Leone in the opening Group 'E' game at the Japoma stadium in Douala on Tuesday.

While the defending champions played the match with their first choice goalkeeper, it was not the case for Cote d’Ivoire, one of the football heavyweights on the continent as their first-choice goalie was sent out of the tournament for failing drugs test.

Though without their first choice goalie, The Elephants, ranked 56th in the world and 10th on the continent opened their eighth Afcon appearance on Wednesday with a 1-0 victory against the Nzalang Nacional of Equatorial Guinea.

Patrice Beaumelle's charges are seeking to improve on their performance in the previous edition where eventual champions, Algeria knocked them out in the quarter-finals.

Covid tests

Another controversial issue at the group stage of the 33rd edition of Afcon in Cameroon has been suspicion around Covid tests seemingly used as "a weapon against some teams" by having majority of their players test positive hence ruled out of key matches.

It will be recalled that Burkina Faso threatened to boycott the opening game against hosts, Cameroon over suspicion that Covid-19 tests were manipulated.

Five players of the Stallions of Burkina Faso and coach Kamou Malo tested positive for Covid-19 in the run up to last Sunday’s tournament opener. The Burkinabe authorities suspected that the results were part of a scheme to favour the hosts and threatened not to play the game.

Assistant coach, Firmin Sanou and captain Bertrand Traore had expressed frustrations over the Covid-19 test results in a pre-match press conference at the Olembe stadium in Yaounde with Traore describing it as “scandalous.”

However, CAF rubbished a protest by the Burkinabé Football Federation saying the PCR tests were conducted by an independent institution and the results were authentic and cannot be disputed.

Many of the 24 participating teams at the tournament have reported Covid-19 cases including Gabon that played their first match without star Pierre -Emerick Aubameyang who had tested positive for the virus.

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