Football fans have labelled the African Cup of Nations (AFCON) a joke after the referee ended Wednesday’s match between Tunisia and Mali early.
Janny Sikazwe, the Zambian official in charge of the match, first blew the whistle for full time after just 85 minutes, before restarting the fixture briefly. He blew the final whistle again for the final time after 89 minutes 43 seconds.
That was despite most observers expecting lengthy stoppage time to be added for lengthy VAR checks. There was no stadium clock to display the time.
After the match, Mali coach Mohamed Magassouba was halfway through his press conference when it was interrupted by the announcement that the final three minutes of the game would be played.
The Mali players and officials returned to the pitch, but there was no signs of Tunisia. They refused to return, as their players had already had their ice baths by then.
Sikazwe then blew his whistle for the final time, meaning that Mali had won the match by a single goal.
Tunisia now demand a replay. Their coach Mondher Kebaier has slammed the timekeeping and called the decision to end the match early inexplicable.
Sikazwe is a highly experienced referee who has officiated at matches in the CAF Champions League, the FIFA Club World Cup, the World Cup itself as well as AFCON.
He refereed the 2015 Club World Cup final between Real Madrid and Kashima Antlers. The following year, he took charge of the AFCON final between Cameroon and Egypt.
In 2018, he became the first ever Zambian to take charge of a game in a World Cup. He was the man in the middle for the games between Belgium and Panama, and Japan and Poland.
However, in November 2018, he was provisionally suspended by CAF (Conféderation of African Football) after being accused of corruption following a CAF Champions League game between Espérance of Tunisia and Primiero Agosto of Angola. That suspension was lifted in January 2019, when a disciplinary hearing cleared him.
AFCON has been struggling to establish its credibility. The controversy, which has made headlines across the world, is the last thing organisers would have wanted.