Tunisia coach Kebaier criticizes “unexplained” decision to end Mali AFCON clash early

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Tunisia’s head coach Mondher Kebaier slammed referee Janny Sikazwe’s “inexplicable” decision to bring an early end to Wednesday’s Africa Cup of Nations clash with Mali.

Mali led the Group F match 1-0 through an Ibrahima Kone penalty when the Zimbabwean referee blew for full time in the 85th minute.

Kebaier realized his mistake and the game was resumed for another four minutes, after which Mali striker El Bilal Toure was dismissed before blowing again with 13 seconds left.

That was despite a series of stops in the second half, including a couple of long VAR checks for Kone’s penalty and one that Wahbi Khazri missed for Tunisia.

Tunisian officials stormed onto the pitch to protest, arguing that not only the remaining seconds should have been played, but the time should also have been added eventually.

In incredible scenes, Mali’s coach Mohamed Magassouba spoke at his post-match press conference when word came that the game would restart.

About 40 minutes after the match was due to end, Mali’s players returned to the pitch, but Tunisia’s players did not come out of the tunnel again.

Tunisian boss Kebaier later explained that his players were unable to play the remaining minutes and suggested that an appeal be lodged.

“It’s a difficult situation to deal with,” he told reporters. “The referee also blew with five minutes left of the first half.

“Then he blew after 89 minutes in the second, denying us practically seven or eight minutes of extra time.

“His decision is inexplicable. I can not understand how he made his decision and we will see what happens now.”

Asked about events after the match, Kebaier added: “He blew full time and asked us to go to the locker room. The players were in their ice baths when they were asked to come out.

“In 30 years in this industry, I have never seen anything like it.”

The controversial end of the match meant that the kick-off in the later match between Mauritania and Gambia on the same ground was pushed back by 45 minutes.

Should the result hold, Mali will be in a strong position to advance to the knockout stages of the competition for the second tournament in a row.

To give his side views on the drama, Mali boss Magassouba said: “These are administrative issues. We were told to go back on the pitch because the match was not over.

“Unfortunately, the opposing team did not want to come back and the final whistle was blown off.”

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