The Africa Cup of Nations match between Mali and Tunisia descended into chaos and ended in confusion after the referee twice blew for full-time before 90 minutes had been played.
In a bizarre series of events, referee Janny Sikazwe blew for full-time on 85 minutes, with Mali leading 1-0 and Tunisia chasing a late equaliser. The game was then resumed, only for Sikazwe to signal full-time again, 20 seconds before the 90-minute mark.
There was then more confusion as Mali returned to the pitch almost 30 minutes after Sikazwe’s second full-time whistle, apparently in anticipation of the match being restarted again.
However, Tunisia refused to return to the field and Mali were declared 1-0 winners in the Group F fixture.
Tunisia had been left furious as they were expecting for there to be a significant amount of additional time. The match had been stopped on several occasions, including for drinks breaks and VAR reviews.
“There was supposed to be seven or eight minutes of additional time,” said the Tunisia manager Mondher Kebaier. “His [the referee’s] decision is inexplicable.”
In explaining Tunisia’s decision to not come out and play out the remainder of the match, Kebaier said his players were not ready to restart.
“The players were taking ice baths for 35 minutes before they were called back out again,” he said.
“I’ve been coaching for a long time never seen anything like it. The fourth official was preparing to lift the board and then the whistle was blown.”
Mali were leading 1-0 thanks to Ibrahima Kone’s penalty in the 48th minute. They were reduced to 10 men after El Bilal Touré was sent off in the 87th minute, in between Sikazwe’s two full-time whistles.
The Mali coach, Mohamed Magassouba, saw his initial post-match press conference interrupted after he was told his side would have to return to the field.
“I told the players that we can only control what is on the pitch. Off the pitch, that’s up to the administrators,” he later said.
“When we were told to go back out and play the players were more than willing. Unfortunately, our opponents didn’t want to come out.”