The 2021 Africa Cup of Nations tournament is now four days in – yet we probably won’t see more drama in a game than witnessed during the fixture between Tunisia and Mali.
Both teams were taking part in their first group game of the tournament on Tuesday. Despite nine shots on goal in the first half, neither side were able to test the opposition goalkeeper.
The second half would provide far more fireworks. Referee Janny Sikazwe pointed to the penalty spot on 47 minutes after Tunisia’s Ellyes Skhiri committed a handball offence inside the area. Mali’s Ibrahima Kone stepped up and scored to put his side 1-0 up.
There was more drama in the 77th minute, when Mali conceded a penalty of their own. Ex-Sunderland midfielder Wahbi Khazri stepped up but saw his spot-kick saved.
The game then entered its last five minutes of normal time. What happened next left the football world watching on in pure disbelief:
Referee blows full-time whistle – twice
With five minutes to play and additional time, Mali will have been deciding on the best way to approach the final stages of the game. They had already made all five substitutions.
But that decision was taken out of their hands when, incredibly, referee Sikazwe blew his whistle to signal full-time. The error was quickly rectified, though, and the two teams continued the game until its conclusion.
However, despite several VAR stoppages, two penalties, a red card and even an injury stoppage whilst Mali’s Adama Traore was placed on a stretcher, Sikazwe blew for full-time again – seconds before the 90 minutes were up.
Understandably, Tunisian officials were furious and surrounded the fourth official. Tunisia manager, Mondher Kbaier, charged onto the field of play to confront the referee. Mali players, meanwhile, slightly sheepishly celebrated victory. However, the drama didn’t end there.
AFCON officials interrupt Mali manager press conference
After the game had reached its premature conclusion, Mali boss Mohamed Magassouba gave his thoughts about what had occurred.
However, after he had sat down, Africa Cup of Nations officials entered the room and informed him that he would have to send his team back out to complete the final minutes.
Following that, the Mali players and their manager lined up in the tunnel to play out whatever time was left – if anyone knew for sure by this stage.
Tunisia fail to emerge for end of match
Mali re-emerged onto the pitch to play out the final minutes. But their opponents were nowhere to be seen. Tunisia had seemingly refused to turn up to finish the game.
The match was declared a result shortly afterwards, with Mali recording a 1-0 victory that kicks off their competition perfectly – although it is unclear whether the result will officially stand. As far as 1-0’s go, though, fans will remember this one for a long time.
This picture of Magassouba, taking part in yet another press conference, probably sums it all up.
What happens now?
With the match complete, attention will turn to what happens next. The main question will be whether Tunisia will be given any sanction for not emerging onto the pitch at the end of the game. According to reports, they have officially asked for a replay.
There will, naturally, be attention on the referee. Of course, we’ve seen referees blow the full-time whistle at inopportune moments before. Graham Poll, for instance, called full-time during a Merseyside derby between Liverpool and Everton in 2000, when goalkeeper Sander Westerveld was about to kick the ball upfield.
We’re sure we haven’t heard the last of this story.
Featured Image Credit: Getty