Ref's poor timekeeping causes Tunisia fury

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A referee at the African Cup of Nations has caused chaos by twice blowing early for the end of a game, incensing Tunisia's coaches after their team had lost 1-0 to 10-man Mali.

Janny Sikazwe's officiating on Wednesday even raised the absurd possibility the match might have to be later restarted for the remaining few minutes.

It also provoked more sinister concerns because Sikazwe was provisionally suspended by the African soccer confederation in 2018 after being accused of match-fixing and corruption.

The Zambian official first blew for full-time after only 85 minutes of the Group F opener in Limbe with Mali leading, but then appeared to realise his mistake and restarted the game soon after.

He then had time to send off Mali substitute El Bilal Toure in the 87th minute for a rash challenge.

Yet Sikazwe then blew full time again before the 90 minutes were up, according to the clock at the stadium and on TV broadcasts. He also seemingly ignored that there had been a number of stoppages in the second half, including two VAR checks.

The early whistle infuriated Tunisia coach Mondher Kebaier and other members of his coaching staff.

Kebaier ran onto the field to confront the referee while pointing angrily at his own watch and the official had to be escorted from the field by security officials and away from the furious Tunisians.

Kebaier called the referee's actions "inexplicable", saying: "He blew for full-time and asked us to go to the dressing room, so the players were in their ice baths, and then he asked us to come back out.

"In 30 years in this business, I have never seen anything like it."

There had been suggestions the game would be restarted amid reports that organisers had burst into the Mali team's post-game news conference and told coach Mohamed Magassouba that his players had to get back on the field to play another three minutes.

Officials gathered on the field about 30 minutes after the game had ended and were seen in discussions.

Mali players also came back out and before walking off for a second time.

In the match itself, Ibrahima Kone had scored the winner for Mali from the penalty spot three minutes into the second half.

Tunisia had been awarded a late penalty for handball and after a video review by Sikazwe.

Tunisia captain Wahbi Khazri, who had won the penalty, then took it but his powerful shot was saved by Ibrahim Mounkoro.

Later on Wednesday, Ablie Jallow shot home after 10 minutes as Gambia made an impressive winning debut at the event by beating Mauritania 1-0 in their opening Group F encounter at Limbe Stadium.

And Max-Alain Gradel's early goal was enough to secure the Ivory Coast a 1-0 win over Equatorial Guinea in Group E.

The two sides were the last to take to the field at the tournament with all 24 finalists now having one game under their belts.

It was a tumultuous day for both the Mali and Gambia teams after the Cameroon news agency reported a gun battle between rebel forces and government soldiers in the town where they are both based.

The news agency said two people were killed and five injured in fighting between separatists and government forces in the town of Buea, 20 kilometres from Limbe.

It has raised serious concerns about security at the tournament, as the agency reported "heavily armed" rebels had fired guns indiscriminately in the area where the training stadium is.

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