BY MICHAEL KARIATI
THE Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) has always been associated with weird and unforgettable scenes and judging by the controversy barely a week into the ongoing tournament in Cameroon, it is certainly living up to its reputation.
In one of the most bizarre moments ever witnessed at the Afcon finals, Zambian referee Janny Sikazwe ended the game between Tunisia and Mali with five minutes remaining and after realising his mistake, he ordered continuation of the match.
That was not the end of it as the same match official, who had earlier given a penalty at either end and sent off a Malian player, blew the final whistle to end the same game in the 89th minute instead of the 90th minute, never mind the several minutes of stoppage time that should have followed.
Tunisia, who lost the controversial encounter 1-0, have lodged a complaint with the Caf over the manner in which Sikazwe handled the whole match and want the match to be replayed.
Chances are that their appeal is unlikely to succeed as there is little time to permit a replay at this 24- team competition.
Some jokingly said Sikazwe should have handled the game between Zimbabwe and Senegal which the Warriors lost with only 30 seconds remaining of the four minutes of added time.
Liverpool’s Sadio Mane converted a penalty after FC Platinum’s Kelvin Madzongwe was adjudged to have handled inside the penalty box.
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Ironically, Sikazwe who is from Zambia is among Caf’s top match officials and was at the 2018 World Cup where he handled the match between Belgium and Panama and the other between Japan and Poland.
Refereeing controversies are however, a common feature at Afcon finals.
Sometime back in 1984, a Gambian referee also stirred controversy when he joined the Egyptian team in a pre-match prayer just before a semi-final penalty shoot-out against Cameroon.
Just before the dreaded penalty shoot-out, the Egyptian players took out the Koran from their kit bags and started praying right on the field of play.
The referees also joined the Egyptian team in prayer much to the surprise of the Cameroon players, Caf and Fifa officials as well as the spectators.
Ironically, the Egyptians lost the penalty shoot-out 5-4 and their star player Aziz Bouderbala who was nicknamed the Maradona of the Nile missed the crucial penalty.
However, one of the biggest Afcon talking points was how a Zambian team of untried and mostly locally-based players battled its way to the final of Afcon 1994.
Zambia had in April 1993, lost its entire team in an air crash off the coast of Gabon only to secure their place at the Afcon finals after knocking out Zimbabwe through a last-minute Kalusha Bwalya header.
Bwalya, who led this new crop of heroes had survived the air crash as he was flying direct from Belgium to link up with the rest of the squad in Morocco for a World Cup qualifier.
The Chipolopolo fought their way up to the final where they eventually lost 2-1 to a Rashid Yekini inspired Nigeria’s Super Eagles.
Ironically, Zimbabwe under Armando Ferreira had also missed qualification for the 1992 Afcon finals after conceding a last-minute equaliser against Congo Brazzaville.
Although Zambia went on to lift the Afcon trophy in 2012 and ironically in Gabon, Zimbabwe are bidding to reach the second round for the first time in their history.
The Warriors play their last Group B match on Wednesday against Guinea and need a victory to stay in the hunt for that elusive knockout stage place.
What a year it would be should the Warriors of Zimbabwe achieve what they have failed to do in 41 years of trying and for that matter under a local coach, Norman Mapeza?
In football, everything is possible.
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