Poor officiating draws attention to quality of African referees
Controversy is no stranger to Africa Cup of Nations, but the image of the continental tournament has been badly dented by last Wednesday’s bizarre event, where the centre referee ended and restarted a group match involving Mali and Tunisia. Both times, before the stipulated 90 minutes, with no consideration for stoppages and other incidentals.
There are 24 referees, 31 assistant referees and eight VAR officials from 36 African countries involved in the ongoing AFCON in Cameroun. The list includes three Camerounians, who had participated in the 2020 African Nations Championship (CHAN).
In the match between Mali and Tunisia, Zambian referee, Janny Sikazwe, who earlier gave a penalty at either end and sent off a Malian player, blew the final whistle with 13 seconds of the 90 minutes remaining, not considering the several minutes of stoppage time that should have followed.
There was chaos.
Apart from fans calling for his head, the post-match press conferences were interrupted by shouting from the adjacent corridor of the stadium in the city of Limbe, as officials ordered that the teams would have to come back out to play three more minutes of the match.
Tunisia decided not to bother to return to the field. Their coach, Mondher Kebaier, called the events “inexplicable” and said he had “never seen anything like it.”
Many followers of African football say that what happened in the game was crass incompetence on the part of referee Sikazwe.
But the 42-year-old Zambian is one of Africa’s foremost referees. He took charge of the 2017 Cup of Nations final between Cameroun and Egypt in Gabon.
The Africa Cup of Nations came under attack by some European coaches, including Liverpool manager, Jurgen Klopp, who lost three key players (Egypt’s Mohamed Salah, Senegal’s Sadio Mane and Guinea’s Naby Keita) for up to a month. Klopp had stoked controversy by calling the Africa Cup of Nations a “little tournament.”
His comments was followed by refusal by some leading European clubs to release players for the tournament under the pretext of concerns about COVID-19 protocols in place.
However, some football analysts are of the view that such incidents are not confined to the AFCON. Only last April, the referee in a La Liga match between Sevilla and Granada in Spain blew the final whistle earlier than he should have done. He realised his mistake and ordered the players back to play one more minute.
While the incident at Omisports Stadium in Limbe is still fresh in memory of the fans, another controversy erupted in Garoua. This time, the Pharoahs of Egypt, who lost their first group match to the Super Eagles of Nigeria, were on the verge of losing two points in their second game against Guinea-Bissau at the Roumdé Adjia Stadium in Garoua.
The Egyptians won the match 1-0 in controversial fashion after a late equaliser from Guinea-Bissau was chalked off by a video assistant referee (VAR) review.
A volley by talisman, Mohamed Salah, in the 69th minute, from a chipped cross from Amr El Soleya, had given the seven-time winners the lead, before the controversy that surrounded the decision to rule out Mama Baldé’s supposed-equaliser eight minutes from time.
The winger had regained the ball while trying to get past Egyptian defender, Omar Kamal, in a scrappy challenge, before playing it on the outside of his foot and striking with a curling effort past the goalkeeper.
Egypt’s players protested the goal, before VAR controversially ruled, deeming the coming-together between Baldé and Kamal as a foul by the Guinea-Bissau player. Egypt will face Sudan today with the hope of getting a victory to seal their spot in the last 16.