Tunisia were furious and officials stormed onto the pitch in protest, but post-match press conferences were in full swing before Confederation of African Football officials decided to play another four minutes.
The match between Tunisia and Mali did not go as planned [Haykel Hmima/Anadolu Agency/Getty]
Football’s Africa Cup of Nations descended into farce on Wednesday as Mali beat Tunisia 1-0 in a game that was prematurely interrupted by the referee, who then tried to restart the match only for the Tunisians to refuse to play. take back the field.
Experienced Zambian official Janny Sikazwe, who took charge of the 2017 Nations Cup final, first blew the final whistle in the 85th minute when he got the timing wrong in Limbe.
But having then played, he repeated the error when he blew full time, again before the clock had passed 90 minutes.
Tunisia were furious and officials stormed onto the pitch in protest, but the man of the match trophy was handed over and post-match press conferences were in full swing before football officials Confederation of African Football (CAF) only decide to play four more minutes.
Mali returned to the pitch 40 minutes after the controversy began, but Tunisia refused to continue and Sikazwe ended the game for the third time.
“The players took ice baths for 35 minutes before being called up again,” Tunisia coach Mondher Kebaier told reporters.
“I’ve been a coach for a long time, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The match was also a story of two penalties as Mali striker Ibrahima Koné converted his attempt, but Tunisia’s Wahbi Khazri couldn’t follow suit as his effort was stopped by goalkeeper Ibrahim Mounkoro at 13 minutes from the end.
Sikazwe sent off Mali striker El Bilal Toure when he was slightly late to challenge what looked like a tough decision.
Debutants Gambia joined Mali at the top of Group F after winning their first game in the final, beating Mauritania 1-0.
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The second game of the double-header in Limbe started 45 minutes late due to the previous farce, but the delay did not hamper Gambia, who took the lead after 10 minutes when Ablie Jallow scored from the edge of the penalty area.
The Gambia could have won by more goals but were denied by Babacar Diop’s sharp keeper.
Also on Wednesday, Ivory Coast beat Equatorial Guinea as expected in Douala, but by just one goal.
Captain Max-Alain Gradel scored in the sixth minute, increasing the number of quality long-range shots into the net in the tournament.
On Thursday, hosts Cameroon can advance to the round of 16 if they beat Ethiopia in Yaoundé, followed by Burkina Faso against the Cape Verde Islands at Olembe Stadium.