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AFCON 2021: Chaos as referee ends Mali vs Tunisia before 90 minutes

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The game was already full of drama when it fell into chaos after a bizarre time-keeping mistake.

Mali won their opening game of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations against Tunisia with a 1-0 result. Following a goalless first half, Ibrahima Kone opened the scoring for Mali by converting in a penalty in the 46th minute.

Later on, Tunisia had the chance to equalize the game from the spot. However, Mali keeper Ibrahim Mounkoro saved the penalty with a brilliant reaction. Tunisia increased the pressure in the final 20 minutes. However, an unexpected mistake changed the course of the game.

Referee Janny Sikazwe blew the final whistle in the 85th minute. Following furious protest from Tunisian players and staff, he called players back to play the game’s closing stages.

Sikazwe sent Mali striker El Bilal Toure out with a straight red card in the 87th minute. However, he then shockingly blew the final whistle early again, this time on 89 minutes and 47 seconds. Even ending the match in the 90th minute would have been surprising as the game had several stoppages due to lengthy VAR checks and a red card.

Once again, Tunisians rushed into the pitch while angrily pointing at their watches. The referee was escorted out of the pitch but returned after half an hour to restart the game once again. However, this time Tunisia did not come back into the pitch, with the officials announcing Mali as the winners.

In a post-match interview, Tunisia coach Mondher Kebaier spoke about the incident.

He said (via The Guardian): “The players were taking ice baths for 35 minutes before they were called back out again,

“I’ve been coaching for a long time never seen anything like it. Even the fourth official was preparing to lift the board [to show how many minutes of injury time] and then the whistle was blown … The referee’s decision is inexplicable; I can’t understand how he reached it. We’ll see what comes of it.”