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Tunisian backroom staff remonstrated with referee Janny Sikazwe (left) on the pitch after he blew for full-time prematurely

The referee who blew for full-time early in an Africa Cup of Nations match claims he could have died of heatstroke.

Zambian Janny Sikazwe ended Tunisia’s game against Mali 13 seconds before the 90 minutes were up, having previously blown for full-time five minutes early, before checking the timing and restarting the game.

“I have seen people going for duties outside the country and come back in a casket,” he said.

“I was very close to coming back like that.

“I was lucky I didn’t go into a coma. It would have been a very different story.

“The doctors told me my body was not cooling down. It would have been just a little time before [I would have gone] into a coma, and that would have been the end.

“I think God told me to end the match. He saved me.”

The Group F match in Limbe on Wednesday, 12 January concluded in controversy as coaching staff from Tunisia, who were trailing 1-0 and playing against 10 men, ran onto the pitch to confront Sikazwe and his assistants about the early finish.

However, Sikazwe stood by his decision and needed security staff to escort him off the pitch.

Twenty minutes later tournament organisers ordered the game to be played to a conclusion but Tunisia’s players did not return to the field and Mali were declared winners.

The North Africans then filed a formal complaint to the Confederation of African Football, but that was rejected and the result stood.

‘I got confused – I couldn’t hear anybody’

Mondher Kebaier (centre) remonstrates with officials
Tunisia coach Mondher Kebaier (centre) took his protests to an assistant after Sikazwe ignored his complaints

Cameroon’s topical conditions, which have seen some games played in temperatures over 30C and high humidity, have caused issues at the Nations Cup – with defending champions Algeria citing them as a factor in their opening 0-0 draw with Sierra Leone.

Speaking to Zambian media on his arrival back in the country, Sikazwe said the impact of the weather in Limbe was the reason for his erratic performance in the second half.

“The weather was so hot, and the humidity was about 85%,” he said.

“After the warm-up I felt the [conditions] were something else. We were trying to drink water but you could not feel the water quenching you – nothing.

“But we [match officials] believe we are soldiers and we go and fight.

“Everything I was putting on was hot. Even the communication equipment, I wanted to throw it away. It was so hot.”

The second half saw several stoppages including two video assistant referee (VAR) reviews, a drinks break and five windows for substitutions, and at least five minutes of injury time would have been expected to have been added on.

However, Sikazwe said he was not able to communicate with the rest of his officiating team.

“I started getting confused. I could not hear anybody,” he said.

“I reached the point where I could start hearing some noise and I thought someone was communicating with me and people were telling me ‘no you ended the match’. It was a very strange situation.

“I was going through my head to find who told me to end the match. Maybe I was talking to myself, I don’t know. That is how bad the situation was.”

Sikazwe to continue officiating

Janny Sikazwe at the 2018 World Cup
Sikazwe took charge of Belgium v Panama and Japan v Poland at the 2018 World Cup

The day after the Tunisia-Mali game Sikazwe went to hospital for heart, blood and physical tests – but all his results came back normal.

He also received visits at his hotel from Caf president Patrice Motsepe and Andrew Kamanga, the president of the Zambian FA.

Sikazwe was back on Nations Cup duty on Tuesday 18 January, overseeing VAR for the group match between Gabon and Morocco.

He had previously taken charge of the 2017 Nations Cup final and two group matches at the 2018 World Cup, and has vowed to continue refereeing.

Sikazwe expects to officiate a game in the Confederation Cup, Caf’s second-tier continental club competition, towards the end of February.

“My family, people of Zambia, you are lucky I am talking to you right now like this,” he said.

“We thank God.

“You say ‘Janny made headlines, he finished the game like this’ and other people have made negative comments. Let it be. We count the blessings.”



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