Coaches and players taking part at the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon have appealed to referees to make better use of VAR, and to avoid the costly errors that blighted Mali‘s 1-0 win over Tunisia on Wednesday.
The Confederation of African Football may have explained that referee Janny Sikazwe was suffering from ‘heat stroke and severe dehydration’ after his collection of errors overshadowed Mali’s win, but scepticism remains around the continent’s officials.
“I usually don’t talk about officiating, it’s not my style, but there was a lot of controversy and the whole world is taking about this,” Ghana coach Milovan Rajevac told ESPN.
“Especially after what happened [with Sikazwe], I think this [poor refereeing] is becoming an issue.
“I hope in the coming days of the competition the officiating will be less controversial and fairer for everyone.”
The Zambian umpire at the centre of the officiating storm entered the competition as one of Africa’s most prominent officials, having refereed the Nations Cup final in 2017 and two matches at the World Cup in 2018.
However, his reputation is now in tatters, with CAF gathering reports from the refereeing team at the match as they seek to understand how Sikazwe twice ended the match prematurely — once in the 85th minute, and then again 18 seconds before the clock struck ’90.
Sikazwe was surrounded by unhappy Tunisia officials at the conclusion of the match, but the 1-0 Mali victory stands after the Carthage Eagles did not return to the pitch to replay the final minutes of the contest following invitation from CAF.
Sikazwe was later taken to hospital after apparently losing focus in the latter stages of the match, although the episode has had a damaging effect on the perception of the continent’s officials.
“The little mistakes can make big issues for players and teams,” Ghana striker Richmond Boakye told ESPN, “so I hope [CAF] can fix whatever has been going on.
“They’re human beings, they can make mistakes, but a wrong decision can take a team home and a correct decision can take a team to the final — they have to get their decisions right, because once a decision is done, you can’t change it.
“I hope they make amends.”
The introduction of the Video Assistant Referee in the tournament for the first time has helped officials correct some initially incorrect decisions — notably in the opening match when VAR awarded Cameroon a penalty following a clear foul by Burkina Faso‘s Bertrand Traore.
However, Sikazwe also opted to ignore VAR advice to overturn a red card he had awarded to El Bilal Toure, prompting consternation among the Mali ranks.
A number of AFCON participants are concerned with how the technology is being used during the competition.
“Even when we looked at our match against Mali, at the end of the first half, there was a potential penalty for us, but VAR didn’t bother to check,” Rajevac added, “and there were many questionable decisions.
“I congratulated the referees after the match — they’re humans, they can make mistakes — but now that we have VAR the number of mistakes should be fewer.
“It must be used smartly, and we hope it improves the quality of the game and brings more fairness to the match. These mistakes shouldn’t be happening so much.”
“We are saddened by this, because we know this competition is seen by everyone, so to have this kind of [refereeing] performance makes us sad,” he told ESPN.
“We can say it’s just a mistake the happens, all refs make mistakes and you can’t criminalise what happened and treat it like the biggest error.
“However, we just hope those errors ensure that, in the future, things happen more or less normally.”