The Confederation of African Football (CAF) has dismissed a formal complaint lodged by Tunisia’s football federation (FTF) about their game with Mali ending 13 seconds early.
In a statement, CAF said the Africa Cup of Nations organising committee met on Thursday and rejected the protest but gave no further explanation.
CAF also confirmed the result of Wednesday’s game as a 1-0 win to Mali, which was the score when Zambian referee Janny Sikazwe, said to have suffered sunstroke, blew early.
He had already whistled for full-time after 85 minutes, only to notice his error and continued the match.
Earlier on Thursday, FTF official Hussein Jenaieh had insisted: “We will do whatever it takes to defend the rights of the national team. We are not children.”
FTF media officer Kais Reguez refused to go into details when asked about the nature of Tunisia’s complaint, which he did confirm.
Match referee Sikazwe reportedly had to go to 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 over 20 minutes later.
While Mali turned up, Tunisia did not, since some of their players were taking ice baths.
“The referee had sunstroke, which affected his decisions in the game,” CAF refereeing official Essam Abdul Fattah told Egyptian media. “After the game, he needed to go hospital because the weather was so hot.”
After their unexpected 0-0 draw against Sierra Leone, defending champions Algeria blamed their display on the heat in Cameroon.
How a farce evolved
Tunisia, the 2004 champions, came into the tournament knowing that a young and vibrant Mali side were likely to be their main group rivals.
Trailing with just five minutes of regulation time left, they were stunned when referee Sikazwe blew for full-time.
The Zambian later checked his timings and continued the game, sending off a Malian player in the meantime, only to then blow up with the clock showing 89 minutes and 47 seconds.
In extraordinary scenes, the Mali coach’s ‘post-match’ press conference was interrupted as it was announced the game would have to re-start to conclude, which it never did.
“They asked us to get back on the pitch, we didn’t – we had no idea what was going on,” Tunisia defender Bilel Ifa told reporters.
“We hope the match is replayed. The referee had no idea what was going on since the beginning of the game.”
Tunisia’s assistant coach was left furious by both the incident and its possible reputational damage for the African game.
“Unfortunately, we cannot see things like this at this high level in Africa – African Football cannot move forward like this,” Tunisia’s assistant coach Jalel Kadri told reporters.
“The referee was “shaken” today. He was even hesitant to check the Video Assistant Referee (VAR), he didn’t even know how to get to the VAR.”
Tunisian backroom staff remonstrated with Sikazwe (left) on the pitch after he blew for full-time prematurely
Zambian official Sikazwe refereed two group-stage matches at the 2018 World Cup in Russia and took charge of the 2017 Nations Cup final.
His reported sunstroke would explain much of the chaos that followed from the 85th minute onwards.
“We understood nothing in the 85th minute – we were in shock,” added Kadri.
“We spoke to the fourth official who said there was miscommunication between him and the main referee who might have misunderstood him. We resumed the match only for him to whistle again in the 89th minute.”
“We headed to the fourth official who agreed the game still hadn’t ended,” FTF official Jenaiah told reporters.
“We complained it was the second time the referee had stopped the game prematurely.
“The fourth official first said the match will resume, but as he headed to the main referee, the latter said ‘No, I blew the whistle, the game is over’.”