10-man Mali defeated Tunisia 1-0 in a dramatic tie marred by a refereeing controversy in their Group F opener of the Africa Cup of Nations at the Limbe Stadium in Limbe on Wednesday.
Ibrahima Kone scored the only goal of the game converting a penalty three minutes into the second half after Ellyes Skhiri was controversially adjudged to have handled the ball in the penalty box.
Tunisia pressed forward for an equalizer, had a chance to level the game when they were also awarded a contentious penalty for a handball by Mali’s Moussa Djenepo. Zambian referee had waved away Tunisia’s appeal but then went for a VAR check after Tunisian players clamored around him to plead their case.
However, captain Wahbi Khazri missed the resulting spot-kick in the 77th minute with Malian goalkeeper Ibrahim Mounkoro diving to his right to keep out Khazri’s effort.
A bizarre moment in the 85th minute saw Sikazwe blow the whistle to end the game only for the game to resume thereafter.
With three minutes of normal time left, Mali found themselves a man down after El Bilal Toure, who had come on as a substitute just six minutes earlier, was sent off for a dangerous tackle, with Sikazwe declining a VAR review of the incident.
The game came to an even more dramatic conclusion as Sikazwe blew the full-time whistle about 20 seconds before the end of the 90 minutes with no added time being played despite previous stoppages during the game for VAR checks.
Sikazwe’s move prompted an angry response from Tunisia’s players and coaching staff who stormed the pitch demanding to know why the game ended prematurely.
Match security officials had to come on to the pitch to escort Sikazwe and the other referees protecting them from the livid Tunisians.
Following the result, Mali sits top of the group with three points while Tunisia is bottom with no points. The other group game will be played between Mauritania and Gambia later on Wednesday.
(Story compiled with assistance from wire reports)