AFCON 2021: Nothing to cheer, but…
I sat through the opening ceremony of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations waiting for robust soccer displays with a bit of upsets characteristic of the beautiful game. I thought Burkina Faso had hit the right chord when they shot into the lead in the first half, dominating the midfield against the Indomitable Lions of […] The post AFCON 2021: Nothing to cheer, but… appeared first on The Nation Newspaper.
I sat through the opening ceremony of the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations waiting for robust soccer displays with a bit of upsets characteristic of the beautiful game. I thought Burkina Faso had hit the right chord when they shot into the lead in the first half, dominating the midfield against the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon in Yaoundé on Sunday. It didn’t happen as the Lions roared to victory courtesy of two penalty kicks which were scored by the vastly experienced, but aging Vincent Aboubakar, who was making a sixth consecutive appearance in Africa’s biggest soccer carnival.
For the period when the Burkinabes led in last Sunday’s game, my silent prayer, though I craved for such a result, was for the Indomitable Lions to roar back to victory to save the fans’ attendance which would have hit an unprecedented all-time low. So, when Cameroon won, it served the purpose of having the fans at the venues. Aboubakar scored another brace on Thursday against Ethiopia, yet the Indomitable Lions’ s enforcing approach after conceding a goal raised doubts about their defence with many pundits warning that they meet their waterloo against star-studded African teams. Cameroon beat Ethiopia 4-1.
Aboubakar is the highest goal scorer in the competition with four goals. Two of them from the penalty spot against Burkina Faso and good goals against Ethiopia on Thursday. Aboubakar has so far scored 29 goals for Cameroon from 78 matches – Abobuakar is one of the strikers to watch for the competition’s highest goal scorer award in a field that has Sadio Mane and Mohammed Salah playing for Senegal and Egypt.
I told those around me who were expecting a rout for the Indomitable Lions that the Burkinabe’s’ youth system was worthy of being emulated by African nations. The Lions didn’t look enterprising and could be beaten at home going by the way they played on Sunday. Other group games have taken the format of the first game with narrow 1-0 or 2-1 results as of Wednesday night.
Those who thought Mohammed Salah would run the rule over the Nigerians on Tuesday received the shock associated with the highly unpredictable but beautiful game – soccer or football whichever one you are used to. Nigeria beat Egypt 1-0.
The fans appear to be the only indices that make the game exciting which has lived up to expectations. The sounds and sights at match venues have witnessed a beautiful display of Africa’s rich culture and ways of life. The fan’s dresses and the manner in which they stormed the venues created the right ambience when shown on television. So far, there haven’t been sad tales to tell about the unscrupulous conduct of hooligans which goes to show that the Cameroonian government has a commendable security architecture that has kept the criminals out of the cities where games have been played. This is not to say that there haven’t been some ugly sides in the competition.
Visitors to the cities have been thrilled by the unique hospitality of the Cameroonians and their government, except that the prices of foodstuffs, hotels, eateries, high cost of transportation, and other immediate needs of people have shot up to unimaginable heights. Such things are normal during competitions. It is one of the ways in which the host government makes the people to reap some of the gains of hosting such global events.
Questionable penalty goals have been given but the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) has chalked off quite a few dubious tendencies from players and the laws of the game.
Indeed, referee Janny Sikazwe from Zambia has been one of the talking points of the tournament on the lips of observers, fans, chroniclers of history, and commentators since Wednesday after he stopped the game between Tunisia and Mali which ended in favour of the better playing West Africans 1-0. Sikazwe’s mistake drew a furious reaction from Tunisia’s bench, with boss Mondher Kebaier furiously grabbing the arm of the Zambian referee and pointing to his watch in the immediate aftermath of the full-time whistle. Kebaier and his staff stormed onto the pitch holding their hands where they had wristwatches to show the linesman nearest to them the wrong timing of the referee. Hasn’t it been said that the referees are the sole custodians of time? Just the flip side to the shameful action of referee Sikazwe. The security operatives handled the ugly situation professionally by shielding referee Sikazwe, who officiated at the Russia 2018 World Cup, and his assistants out of the pitch to keep angry Tunisians from unleashing havoc.
Sikazwe blew off the game after 85 minutes but realised his error before restarting play, but then blew again with just 89 minutes and 43 seconds of the Group F clash instead of the stipulated regulation time of 90 minutes and a few added minutes where delays have been witnessed. It was as if Sikazwe was condemned to fail in anything that he did, as he rejected a VAR review of the red card for Mali substitute El Bilal Toure. Mention must be made about the decision taken by officials of CAF that the game between Mali and Tunisia be completed having noticed that the game ended the 89 minutes 44 seconds. Both countries returned to pitch to complete the game. Meaning that the game was ended for the third time. Is Sikazwe still in Cameroon as a referee? I doubt it. He has been a terrible citation of how to handle games as a referee.
Sikzwe was suffering from heatstroke and severe dehydration and was taken to hospital after the match, according to the man in charge of officiating at AFCON Essam Abdel-Fatah.
”The referee suffered from heatstroke and very severe dehydration, which led to him losing focus and was taken to the hospital,’ Abdel-Fatah told MBC Egypt’s Al-Laib.
”It caused him to lose time in the 80th minute, and he ended the match in the 85th minute. He returned after directions from the assistant staff and then returned to finish the match in the 89th minute.
”When the crisis occurred and the objections and control were lost in the match, the fourth referee was the one who was going to complete the match [instead of Sikazwe], but one of the two teams refused.”
The world expects to read the doctor’s report which corroborates all that has been stated by CAF otherwise history would use it against the Africa soccer body as one which tolerates incompetence which brought the game to disrepute. As an adult, Sikzwe ought to have signalled to the reserve referee that he was feeling unwell. If indeed the referee had bouts of severe heat stroke leading to dehydration, followers of the game ought to have noticed it from the referee’s action before he blew off the game, in the first instance.
At what point did CAF notice that Sikzwe was sick? Was it after the Tunisians refused to come onto the field for the third start of the game that CAF knew of this ‘ailment’? Did Sikzwe show any sign of incoherent discussion when led back onto the field? CAF should stop defending the indefensible. What Sikzwe did was a disgrace to the whistling game and he deserved severe punishment, not given a soft landing as is being done by CAF.