Tunisia 0-1 Mali: Africa Cup of Nations controversy as referee blows final whistle early – as it happened

By Paul Doyle
Mali's Falaye Sacko talks with Tunisia's Hannibal Mejbri after the match.
Mali's Falaye Sacko talks with Tunisia's Hannibal Mejbri after the match. Photograph: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

The players are back on!

Well, the Mali players return a good half an hour after the match first ended. Tunisia’s players refuse to come back on, however, as the match is officially ended for a second time. Confusing scenes and surely a story that will rumble on.

90 min: The ref blows for full-time, with 89 minutes and 47 seconds gone, according to the clock on the TV screen. Tunisia’s manager and backroom staff stream on to the pitch to demand an explanation, pointing angrily at their watches. This has been a bizarre conclusion to the match. The ref and his assistants are surrounded by stewards for their protection and then ushered off the pitch. He’ll have some explaining to do later: his time-keeping seemed very odd and his red card decision excessively harsh. The penalty decisions, mind you, were reasonable: Mali scored from the spot and Tunisia missed, and that’s why the three points go to Mali.

Tunisia coach Mondher Kebaier remonstrates with the referee Janny Sikazwe over his dodgy time-keeping.
Tunisia coach Mondher Kebaier remonstrates with the referee Janny Sikazwe over his dodgy time-keeping. Photograph: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

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88 min: The ref is advised to review his red card decision on the pitchside screen. He takes a look ... and concludes that he was right. No reprieve for El Bilal Touré. Mali must protect their lead with 10 men and who knows how long left.

87 min: RED CARD! Another curious decision from the ref. El Bilal Touré is shown a straight red card for catching Bronn a teeny bit late, on the foot, near half-way. It was barely worth a yellow but the Zambian official decided to send him straight off.

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86 min: What’s going on? Tunisian staff look bewildered as the referee appears to blow for full-time even though several minutes remain. No one quite nows what’s going on ... and then the ref signals for play to continue. What was that whistle for?

85 min: Tunisia desperately hunt for an equaliser. They’ve got plenty of of men forward but still their crossing and passing around the box is awry.

83 min: El Bilal cuts in from the right and slides the ball into the path of F Coulibaly ... who had strayed offside.

81 min: Mali substitutions: L Coulibaly and El Bilal on, A Haidara and Djenepo off.

Penalty saved!

Khazri slammed it to the keeper’s right around mid-height. Mounkoro goes the right way and slaps the ball wide with both hands before being engulfed by grateful teammates!

Ibrahim Mounkoro is mobbed after his fine penalty save.
Ibrahim Mounkoro is mobbed after his fine penalty save. Photograph: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

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75 min: Penalty to Tunisia! The ref is instructed to go over and have a gander at the pitchside screen. He does so ... and then points to the spot!

74 min: Khazri’s jabbed cros from the right hits the outstretched hand of Djenepo in the box. Tunisia howl for a penalty .... and VAR is having a look....

73 min: Mali substitutions: Doumbia and F Coulibaly on for Malouda Traoré and ... I’ll let you know.

72 min: Tunisia raid down the right and have five players in the box waiting for Mathlouthi’s cross. It’s slightly too long but Khazri manages to hook it back from beyond the far post. Mali clear.

71 min: Better from Mali. Now they’re playing the game in opposing territory, showing impressive poise as they calmly push Tunisia back.

68 min: Tunisia have definitely improved, quickening their play and sending more players forward. But I’m not sure that alone explains how they have been able to have so much of the play since then: Mali have brought some of it on themselves by growing too cautious.

66 min: Tunisia substitution: Ben Slimane on, Laidouni off.

64 min: Bronn opens fire from 40 yards. It’s a fierce wobbly one so Mounkoro decides not to risk catching it and instead punches it wide.

60 min: Bissouma receives the ball wide on the left and holds on to it until Djenepo offers the overlap option. Bissouma slips the ball to the winger, who flies past Mathlouthi before falling in the box. But the ref judges - correctly - that the defenders stretched out a leg and tipped the ball away before the fall.

59 min: Mali substitution: on comes Yves Bissouma, in place of Nos Traoré

55 min: From about six yards to the left of the D and just two yards outside the box, Khazri curls the freekick over the five-man wall. Mounkoko gets two hands on it and pushes it over the bar. Tunisia take the resultant corner short and then drift it towards the back post, from where it’s headed back into the danger zone for Sacko ... who nods just wide from seven yards! That was by far Tunisia’s best chance of the game. They’re reacted well to falling behind. This contest is hotting up!

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54 min: Sliti clipped at the edge of the box as he tries to wriggle through. No doubt Khazri will fancy this freekick ...

51 min: Khazri, no stranger to the spectacular, tries to catch the keeper by surprise from about 35 yards. Not quite accurate enough.

50 min: Another penalty!? No, as the ref waves away Malian appeals after Malouda Traore seems to be brought down after chopping past one defender and on to his right foot. With Mathlouthi putting pressure on him from behind and the keeper rushing towards him, the attacker went down, but the ref was unmoved.

48 min: Nearly half the goals in the tournament so far (4 of 10) have come from penalties. Tunisia will be mighty peeved at how that one came about. They failed to clear a looping corner and then Skhiri turned his back on Kouyaté’s wayward shot from edge of the box, allowing it to hit his arm.

GOAL! Tunisia 0-1 Mali (Koné pen 48)

The striker sends the debutant keeper the wrong way!

Ibrahima Kone makes sure from the spot.
Ibrahima Kone makes sure from the spot. Photograph: Issouf Sanogo/AFP/Getty Images

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47 min: Penalty to Mali after Skhiri inadvertently blocked Kouyaté’s shot with his arm!

46 min: Before kickoff the main worry of Tunisia fans was that their keeper, Beechir Ben Saïd, may prove to be their weak link. But Mali haven’t even tested him yet. Ibrahim Mounkoro in the Malian goal has been equally redundant. It will be interesting, sort of, to see whether these teams will remain as impotent in the second half.

Half-time: Tunisia 0-0 Mali

There have only been six goals from open play in nine and half matches at this tournament so far: it doesn’t really look like one is going to come here because neither team has looked sharp around the box. At least Mali have got into decent positions thanks to strong and clever play in midfield but they’ve rarely stretched Tunisia’s wily defence. Tunisia, meanwhile, did not worry Mali’s defenders until stoppage time in the first period.

45+1 min: Khazri - barely seen for a while - conjurers an opening up front, nipping the ball into Mejbri and darting into the box to receive the lay-back. Haidara makes a n excellent block, turning away Khzari’s shot from 16 yards. Mali got away with one there: Mejbri didn’t seem to realise that he could have turned and taken a shot from even closer himself.

44 min: Malouda Traoré slaloms between two defenders wide on the left but then runs straight into the third and concedes a freekick. That kind of sums up Mali so far: they’ve done a lot of good stuff until they reach the final third, where it all tends to peter out.

40 min: Massadio Haidara decides to have a whack from long range - and it’s a fine effort, whizzing just wide of the post from over 20 yards.

37 min: Good move by Mali. Koné did well when the ball came to him just outside the D, where he held off three defenders before shoving it wide to Djenepo on the left. The Southampton winger clipped a delicate pass towards the far post, where Malouda Traoré narrowly failed to connect, under pressure from Maaloul.

36 min: An absolutely dreadful delivery from Khazri, lofting a freekick from the left way over the bar when, for once, he had players awaiting a cross in the box.

33 min: Bronn brings down Djenepo, conceding a freekick on the right wing. But Djenepo then gets a yellow card for reasons unclear. Anyway, Nos Traore sends over the freekick, which Tunisia again clear well.

31 min: Talbi does well to hold off Koné after stepping in front of him to guide the ball back towards the keeper, who wellies clear.

29 min: A drinks break, which is only right when the temperature is 34 degrees and humidity is 65%.

27 min: Moments after that last entry, Tunisia finally infiltrate the Malian box! Helped by a favourable deflection, it must be said, but Mathlouthi then delivered a useful cross from the byline that Haidara had to put behind for a corner. Which is cleared at the near post.

25 min: Mali continue to have the upperhand but still do not look like penetrating from open play. Tunisia, meanwhile, have yet to get even close to the Malian box.

22 min: Another booking, this time for Mathlouthi for clattering into Massadio Haidara in midfield, catching him mid-way up the shin.

20 min: Maaloul gets a chance to romp down the left for the first time. But his cross comes to nought.

18 min: The first yellow card of the game goes to Hamari Traoré, rather harshly.

17 min: Tunisia are finding it increasingly difficult to contain their vibrant opponents: they’re conceding lots of fouls. They clear the most recent freekick - an outswinger from the left by Amadou Haidara - but Mali will surely make these setpieces count if Tunisia keep giving them away.

15 min: The threat from Mali is growing; they’re starting to lord it in midfield and are pushing Tunisia back.

13 min: Kouyaté meets an outswinging corner on the run near the penalty spot but he can’t keep his header down. It sails a yard over the bar.

10 min: Mali have only played in spurts so far but there’s a sense that if they get into a groove they could really trouble Tunisia.

8 min: Noss Traoré curls in a corner from the right that Tunisia head away.

6 min: Mejbri has seen plenty of the ball in the early stages: it’s clear his teammates have a lot of confidence in him. Operating at the right-hand side of midfield, he is polished when in possession and it’s already clear that his interaction with Khazri is Tunisia’s most obvious source of creativity.

4 min: After early Malian pressure, Tunisia try to impose their patient passing game. But Mali are well organised and dynamic, refusing to let them play their way through.

2 min: Koné fires off the first shot, latching on to a long crossfield ball, holding off two defenders and hitting the bouncing ball goalward from the left-hand side of the box. It’s deflected wide for a corner.

1 min: Tunisia v Mali is go! Before enjoying the action, let us put on a record that Mali’s jersey is absolutely majestic, with a glorious yellow eagle spreading its wings across the chest.

The swanky stadium - nestling at the foot of beautiful mountains and offering a sumptuous coastal view - is sparsely populated, with just a smattering of fans, who mostly seem to be supporting Mali. They may not be numerous but the spectators are making plenty of noise and seems to be enjoying themselves. Hurrah!

It is worth noting that this match is taking place amid a huge security operation in Limbé, which is the only part of Anglophone Cameroon to host matches in this tournament. Thousands of people have been killed in the ongoing conflict in Cameroon, and some separatist fighters have threatened to launch attacks to disrupt this tournament and further discredit the central regime.

This could be presented as a clash of generations: Mali’s exciting young team - who may well have the talent to make the country champions of Africa for the first time - against the relatively gnarled players of Tunisia (who’ve been African champions once, the smallest country in population terms to claim that honour). But Tunisia have some youthful talent too, most obviously Hannibal Mejbri, the 18-year-old who starts in midfield today on the back of a very impressive display at December’s Arab Cup (where Tunisia finished runners-up). But check out the strength of Mali’s midfield: even with enforced absentees (Yves Bissouma is only fit enough for a place on the bench), they boast players who could light up this tournament, such as Moussa Djenepo, Amadou Haidara and Diadie Samassekou. And in Ibrahima Koné, who plays his club football in Norway, they’ve found a striker who could give them the sharpness they’ve sometimes lacked. On that score, Tunisia will be counting on Naim Sliti, the buccaneering left-back Ali Maaloul and the ever-trusty Wahbi Khazri. This could be fun.

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Teams

Tunisia: Ben Saïd; Mathlouthi, Ifa, Talbi, Maaloul; Mejbri, Bronn, Skhiri, Laidouni; Sliti, Khazri

Subs: Subs: Ben Mustapha, Rekik, Haddadi, Khaoui, Touzghar, Jaziri, Abdi, Ben Romdhane, Dahmen, Chaaleli, Rafia, Ben Slimane.

Mali: Mounkoro; H Traoré, Sacko, Kouyaté, M Haidara; A Haidara, Samassékou; AM Traoré, AN Traoré, Djenepo; Koné

Subs: C Traoré, Doumbia, K Coulibaly, L Coulibaly, Sissako, Fofana, Diarra, Bissouma, Diawara, Dieng, Camara, Touré.

Referee: J Sikazwe (Zam)

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Preamble

Hello and welcome to the first day of action in Group F, which may prove to be the most evenly contested group in an Africa Cup of Nations that is up for grabs. Tunisia and Mali each have cases for being considered among the contenders for outright glory so it will be interesting to see how they start when they face each other today. There haven’t been many goals in the tournament so far but these sides can be expected to attack with style.


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