Afcon 2021: Are we talking too much about referees?

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Nigeria, Tunisia, Alex Iwobi
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The officials have intermittently been the centre of attention at the finals, and that is never a good thing

After the initial confusion that marred Janny Sikazwe’s handling of the Mali-Tunisia game on January 12, observers hoped it would be the last time a referee would be the post-match centre of attention.

Admittedly, nothing will quite match the Zambian’s inaccurate time-keeping or the incorrect decisions after pitch-side reviews, yet there is continued frustration over match officials as the Africa Cup of Nations enters the quarter-final stage.

The Round of 16 games precipitated disapproval at the heavy-handed approach to decision-making, leading to red cards in all but three encounters in the last round.

Cameroon/Comore

Four of the seven dismissals were straight reds, with the other three brandished after two yellows.

Undoubtedly some of the decisions seemed harsh under the appropriate context, leaving supporters concerned about being on the receiving end of seemingly poor decisions.

The first of the seven reds came in Burkina Faso’s win over Gabon on Sunday, with Sidney Obissa seeing red after 67 minutes. While the defender could have no complaints about the second, the initial booking was bizarre.

Referee Redouane Jiyed seemed to spot a foul on Issa Kabore after 13 minutes, pointed to the spot and booked the defender. Multiple replays showed this may have been an erroneous call, but there was no review of that decision.

Of course, Bertrand Traore’s miss meant the Panthers did not pay for a poor refereeing decision at the time, although Obissa’s second yellow ought to have vexed the Gabon side.

Alex Iwobi, Wilfred Ndidi - Nigeria

Later on Sunday, Alex Iwobi was shown a red card barely five minutes after his introduction against Tunisia as the Super Eagles exited the finals following a 1-0 defeat.

This has split opinion, although the calls to dismiss Comoros’ Nadjim Abdou and Cape Verde’s Patrick Andrade appear to show a general consistency in punishing similar challenges at the finals.

Referee sends off Erickson Patrick Andrade, Senegal vs Cape Verde Afcon 2021

The timings of the aforementioned reds — Abdou received his marching orders after seven minutes against Cameroon, while Andrade was sent off slightly later in the 21st minute against Senegal — brought about added criticism, but that should not be a stick to beat the officials with, in fairness.

Having said that, Vozinha’s dismissal just before the hour mark looked strange as there was a covering Blue Sharks defender in that move.

Sadio Mane challenged Vozinha, Senegal vs Cape Verde

Lahlou Benbraham was advised to review the incident pitch-side and brandished a red to the surprise of the Cape Verdeans.

The final two reds were produced in the Gambia’s 1-0 win over Guinea on Monday, with Yusupha Njie and Ibrahima Sory Conte receiving second yellows in the final five minutes of the debutants success.

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Again, both yellows showed the overbearing approach to officiating at the finals, and Conte will now miss his nation’s big day with Cameroon on Saturday as a consequence.

While the standard of refereeing has dipped significantly in recent years, a plethora of decisions at the ongoing Afcon have been incomprehensible.

Even though observers are inclined to hope there would be a change from the quarters, they would not hold their breath regarding that desire.

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