Senegal ran out as winners of the delayed Africa Cup of Nations for the first time in their history, beating Egypt on penalties at the Olembe Stadium in Yaounde, Cameroon.
Overall, the final itself was quite underwhelming, with the game finishing 0-0 both in regular time and extra-time, leading to the game going to penalties, with Liverpool star Sadio Mane scoring the decisive kick to win it for Senegal.
The tournament as a whole was marred by controversy, even before it actually started, mainly due to clubs refusing to let their players go to the tournament since it is mid-season, the tournament’s timing, the host nation’s readiness, as well as the possibility of numerous COVID-19 infections.
When it got underway, several bizarre incidents continued to add fuel to the fire, particularly in the way the competition was organised and administered.
One of the most publicised incidents came in a Group F match between Mali and Tunisia, where the second-half of the game became farcical after some strange decisions and timekeeping by Zambian referee Janny Sikazwe.
Mali won 1-0, but Sikazwe stole the headlines, with the Zambian referee previously being suspended over allegations of corruption, and then proceeded to award two very controversial penalties, handed out an even more debatable red card and then proceeded to blow the final whistle twice, once after 85 minutes and another with 11 seconds of play still left to go.
While tournament officials tried to restart the games 40 minutes after it ‘ended’, the Tunisian players refused to play.
In another incident, before a game between Mauritania and Gambia, the person controlling the audio managed to play Mauritania’s old national anthem three times in a row, rather than the one they changed to in 2017.
During the game between Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone that finished in a draw, goalkeeper Badra Ali Sangare was forced off injured after conceding a shambolic goal late in the second-half.
With just a few minutes left, Sangare went out to collect a pass headed back to him by his own defender, but he had to dive in order to prevent conceding a late corner. However, while diving, his right knee seemingly dug into the horrific pitch and in his tumble he ended up spilling the ball, leading to Sierra Leone’s Steven Caulker to easily square it to Kei Kamara who tapped in the equaliser.
Despite all of these outrageous incidents, this edition of the tournament will also be blighted by the deadly stadium crush that occurred during the game between Cameroon and Comoros on January 24, where at least eight people were killed and 38 were injured, as they were flocking to get into the Olembe Stadium to see the host nation.
While the ground was then temporarily closed and reopened ten days later for the semi-final between Cameroon and Egypt, the tragedy put so many people off going that only 24,371 people attended the match, a huge drop from the 48,000 that were allowed to enter due to COVID-19 regulations.
When speaking on the incident and the stadium’s reopening, Cameroon legend Rigobert Song said that “Moments of joy can be accompanied by moments of sadness” and that “There is a feeling of sadness but it is a part of life.”
The game between Cameroon and Comoros was also bizarre on the pitch, as Chaker Alhadhur, who is originally a left-back, had to play as a goalkeeper due to an injury and positive COVID-19 tests to the country’s listed players in the position.
Remarkably, he made four saves and slotted in quite well, despite eventually losing 2-1, and he is said to be the first outfield player to feature as a goalkeeper from the start of a match in a major international tournament.
While the tournament provided plenty of intriguing games, such as Egypt’s 2-1 win over Morocco, and Ghana’s 3-2 defeat against Comoros, as well as providing the African continent with a much needed major sporting event after the pandemic, it will always go down as a tournament that was filled with horrible decisions, corruption and also tragedy.
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