The African Cup of Nations (AFCON) is never short of controversy.
What started as a colourful tournament in Cameroon has now been tainted by bizarre refereeing incidents and poor officiating, one, in particular, catching the eye.
When Mali faced Tunisia in the opening game of Group F, referee Janny Sikazwe shockingly ended the game before the full 90 minutes had been played.
The 42-year-old Zambian blew the full-time whistle first in the 85th minute while Mali was leading 1-0 courtesy of an Ibrahima Kone penalty minutes after the restart.
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The game, however, resumed, only for Sikazwe to blow for full time again, less than a minute to the 90-minute mark.
Tunisia were left furious, considering they expected a reasonable amount of additional time based on the VAR reviews and drinking breaks taken during the game.
The Mali team, however, thought the match would restart again, and waited on the pitch for half an hour, but the North Africans refused to return. Mali were declared winner of the game.
This is not the first time referee Sikazwe has been the centre of controversy in a high-level fixture.
In 2018, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) banned the referee on grounds of corruption after he had officiated a Champions League tie between Tunisian outfit Esperance and Angolans Primiero Agosto.
Esperance won the match 4-2 but were awarded a controversial penalty for their first goal. The referee had also ruled out an Agosto goal for an alleged foul on the Esperance goalkeeper.
Sikazwe’s suspension was, however, lifted at the start of 2019 after being cleared in a disciplinary hearing.
Sizakwe’s recent mistake is perhaps a drop in the ocean in the contentious refereeing decisions being witnessed across the continent.
In November last year, Senegalese referee Ndiaye Maguette found himself in the middle of a storm after awarding a controversial penalty during World Cup Qualifier pitting South Africa and Ghana.
Bafana Bafana manager Hugo Broos alleged Maguette made 47 errors, and 90 per cent of wrong calls benefited the Black Stars, leading to a 1-0 win, and a subsequent qualification into the knockout stages. He explained the ref made 71 calls, 47 of which the South African Federation saw fault in.
In 2013, Tunisian referee Slim Jdidi was suspended by CAF after ‘scandalous’ officiating in the AFCON semi-final between Ghana and Burkina Faso.
Jdidi was criticised for making several questionable decisions including reducing Burkina Faso to ten men after red carding Jonathan Pitroipa for simulation, even though it was clear the man was fouled.
"We would have expected a better standard," CAF secretary-general Hicham El Amrani told press.
During a penalty shootout of the 2000 AFCON final between Cameroon and Nigeria, referee Mourad Daami failed to award a penalty goal to Nigeria’s Victor Ikpeba, even though the ball appeared to cross the line after hitting the crossbar.
Cameroon went on to win the game 4-3 on penalties, a result that could have been different if the goal had been awarded.
In 2017, Ghanaian referee Joseph Lamptey was banned for life by FIFA after disastrous officiating in a World Cup Qualifier between Senegal and South Africa a year before.
Later, the referee revealed in an apology he was trying to favour the home side at the Peter Mokaba Stadium in Polokwane - Bafana Bafana. FIFA later revealed the referee’s poor officiating was aimed at making “certain bets successful". Lamptey made several controversial decisions in the match that saw South Africa win 2-1.
He awarded them a penalty just before halftime, a wrongly given handball against Senegal defender Kalidou Koulibaly. Replay footage showed the ball hit the defender’s knee.
FIFA said the referee was also at fault for events that led to South Africa's second goal two minutes later.
"Suspicious betting activities reached their climax precisely when Lamptey took the incorrect refereeing decision between the 40th minute and the end of the first half," FIFA said in a statement.
In 2015, CAF banned Mauritian referee Seechurn Rajindrapasard for six months and delisted him from the Elite Referees panel after shambolic officiating during the 2015 AFCON quarter-final between hosts Equatorial Guinea and Tunisia.
Rajindrapasard was at fault for awarding a dubious penalty to the hosts in stoppage time. Equatorial Guinea equalised and went on to win the game 2-1.
The Tanzanian Football Federation, however, much recently blamed ‘attacks’ on referees, which they said made them discharge their duties with fear.
TFF president Wallace Karia said “Simba and Young Africans syndrome” has largely contributed to the undermining of referee abilities.
"Some of the mistakes that our refs commit are human errors which are inevitable in football, and this tendency of accusing referees of poor officiating is common when Simba or Yanga play,” said Karia.