AFCON 2021: Tunisia's Protest Over Match Controversy Against Mali Has Been Rejected By CAF.

The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has dismissed a formal complaint made by Tunisia’s football federation (FTF) to have their first match in Group F against Mali to be replayed, following referee controversy in Limbe on Wednesday afternoon.

The Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) organising  committee reportedly met on Thursday consigning the issue, but rejected the protest made by Tunisia and gave no further explanation.

CAF also confirmed in a statement that, the result of Wednesday’s game still stands as a 1-0 win to Mali, because that was the score the moment when Zambian referee Janny Sikazwe blew his whistle for full-time prematurely.

The referee had initially whistled for full-time after 85 minutes, only to notice his error and continue the match which he also ended 4 minutes later before the stipulated time.

“After examining the protest of Tunisia and all the match officials’ reports, the committee decided to dismiss the protest lodged by the Tunisian team. It also decided that the match result will stand as 1-0 in favour of Mali,” CAF said in a short statement.

Essam Abdel-Fatah, who is the head of referees at AFCON, later confirmed to Egyptian media that Janny Sikazwe had suffered from sunstroke and ‘severe dehydration’. The health condition was caused by hot weather, which influenced his judgments during the encounter in which the Tunisian side felt cheated.

The second-half of the match alone, Sikazwe awarded a penalty early in the 48th minute, after Tunisia's midfielder Ellyes Skhiri was deemed to have blocked Boubakar Kouyate’s shot with his arm in the area.

Ibrahima Koné converted the penalty to give Mali a 1-0 lead.

The referee also awarded another penalty following a lengthy VAR check in the 77th minute after striker Wahbi Khazri’s shot smacked into Mali's winger Moussa Djenepo’s hand.

Though Wahbi Khaziri failed to score from the spot, as his effort was saved by goalkeeper Ibrahima Mounkoro.

Malian striker El Bilal Touré was also harshly sent off in the 87th minute.

The match ended in confusion and bizarre scenes as Security guards escorted the officiating team off the pitch.

Sikazwe reportedly had to go to the hospital to recover after the match, which is why the fourth official was set to take charge of a failed attempt to restart the game after CAF officials ordered that the game be completed from where it stopped.

The Marlian players returned to the pitch as instructed, but the Tunisian team refused to turn up.

Meanwhile, CloudNine Sports understands that Sikazwe who is one of the most decorated African referees is not new to controversies. 

Born on May 26, 1979, in Kapiri Mposhi, a city three hours north of Lusaka, the Zambian capital.

He is a teacher by training, and has been a FIFA-badged referee since 2007, becoming one of the most senior officials in Africa  with a wealth of experience from big matches.

The 43-year-old has officiated the 2016 Club World Cup final between Real Madrid and Kashima Antlers, the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations final between Cameroon and Egypt.

He was named among the six African referees at the Russia 2018 World Cup, and handled two games (Belgium vs Panama, and Japan vs Poland).

After being in charge of the African Champions League match between Esperance of Tunisia and Primiero Agosto of Angola, Sikazwe was provisionally suspended from all football activities by CAF’s disciplinary board in November 2018 on suspicion of corruption.

The suspension was, however, lifted by FIFA in January 2019, saying there was no sufficient evidence to substantiate the corruption allegations made against Sikazwe.

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