THE referee at the centre of the farcical scenes at the end of the Africa Cup of Nations clash between Tunisia and Mali on Wednesday was suffering from heat stroke and severe dehydration and was taken to hospital after the match, according to the man in charge of officiating at AFCON.
Tunisia have appealed for their Group F opener to be replayed after Zambian official Janny Sikazwe blew the final whistle after just 85 minutes, then again 17 seconds before 90 minutes were up despite viewers expecting a lengthy period of stoppage-time in an incident-packed game, which ended with Mali 1-0 up.
Around 35 minutes after the match was prematurely halted the teams were asked to come back out by AFCON officials, but Tunisia refused as they were already recovering in ice baths, manager Mondher Kebaier revealed.
Now AFCON’s head of referees Essam Abdel-Fatah has defended the performance of Sikazwe – who officiated at the 2018 World Cup – by insisting he was suffering from the effects of the 34-degree heat level and 65 per cent humidity in Limbe, Cameroon.
‘The referee suffered from heat stroke and very severe dehydration, which led to him losing focus and was taken to the hospital,’ Abdel-Fatah told MBC Egypt’s Al-Laib.
‘It caused him to lose time in the 80th minute, and he ended the match in the 85th minute. He returned after directions from the assistant staff and then returned to finish the match in the 89th minute.
‘When the crisis occurred and the objections and control were lost in the match, the fourth referee was the one who was going to complete the match [instead of Sikazwe], but one of the two teams refused.’
Sikazwe had to be escorted off the pitch by security officials after infuriating Tunisia
There were two penalties awarded in the second half, another two incidents which required Sikazwe to check the pitchside monitor, plus a water break and five substitutions, so both teams would have reasonably expected at least six minutes of added time to be played.
Kebaier was understandably fuming in his post-match press conference: ‘At the 85th minute he blows final whistle. Again at 89th minute. There was supposed to be 7-8 minutes of additional time. His decision is inexplicable.’
‘The players were taking ice baths for 35 minutes before they were called back out again,’ he added. ‘I’ve been coaching for a long time never seen anything like it. Even the fourth official was preparing to lift the board and then the whistle was blown.’