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LIMBE, Cameroon, Jan 12, (AP): A referee at the African Cup of Nations caused chaos Wednesday by twice blowing early for the end of a game, incensing coaches on the losing team and raising the absurd possibility that the match might have to be restarted for the remaining few minutes with a different official in charge.
It also provoked more sinister concerns because the referee involved was provisionally suspended by the African soccer confederation in 2018 after being accused of match-fixing and corruption. Referee Janny Sikazwe of Zambia first blew for full time after only 85 minutes of the Group F opener between Tunisia and Mali in Limbe. Mali was leading 1-0. Sikazwe seemed to realize his mistake amid strong protests by the Tunisia players and restarted the game soon after. He then sent off Mali substitute El Bilal Touré in the 87th minute for a rash tackle. But Sikazwe blew full time again nearly a minute before the 90 minutes were up, according to the clock at the stadium and on TV broadcasts. Mali appeared to have won the game 1-0.
The early whistle infuriated Tunisia coach Mondher Kebaier and other members of the coaching staff. Kebaier ran onto the field to confront the referee while pointing angrily at his own watch and the ref had to be escorted from the field by security officials. There was no official word from the Confederation of African Football on any decisions made over the game, but it appeared the 1-0 win for Mali would stand. There were also concerns regarding Sikazwe’s actions after he was temporarily suspended by CAF in 2018 following accusations of match-fixing for his performance in charge of an African club game. The Zambian was an official at the World Cup in Russia earlier that year.
In Wednesday’s game, Ibrahima Koné scored from the penalty spot three minutes into the second half for Mali’s goal after a handball by Ellyes Skhiri. Tunisia was awarded a late penalty, also for handball and after a video review by Sikazwe. Tunisia captain Wahbi Khazri won and then took the penalty, but his powerful shot was saved by Ibrahim Mounkoro. Mali held on with 10 men after Touré’s red card, although not for as long as they should have had to. It was a tumultuous day for the Mali team after the Cameroon news agency reported a gun battle between rebel forces and government soldiers in the town where the Malian squad is based for the African Cup.
The news agency said two people were killed and five injured in fighting between separatists and government forces in the town of Buea. Gambia is also based in the town about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from host city Limbe. There was a heavy police and military presence outside the Limbe Stadium and a military helicopter hovered overhead during the game. Buea has been the scene of deadly clashes because of an insurrection by English-speaking separatists who are fighting the Francophone government in an attempt to break away and form their own state called Ambazonia. More than 3,000 people have been killed in the fighting across the western part of Cameroon since it erupted five years ago. It has raised serious concerns about security at the soccer tournament, especially after organizers chose Limbe as a host city and Buea as a venue for teams to stay and also for one of the tournament’s official training stadiums