The delayed 2021 African Cup of Nations (AFCON) tournament going on in Cameroon has left many fans angered even as most of them have labeled it “African Cup of Red Cards”. Most fans said they have stopped watching the games. Many fans believe that what is happening in Cameroon is bad publicity for African football. Some former players are worried too. “Some of these red card decisions in #AFCON are shocking. Is football getting soft???”, Michael Essien, a former Chelsea midfielder who represented Ghana at past AFCONs twitted.
This is the first time in the history of AFCON where all 52 matches will be using Video Assistant Referee (VAR). The Confederation of African Football (CAF) had previously used VAR starting from quarterfinals at the 2019 AFCON in Egypt. Suffice it to say that CAF may have intended to improve refereeing with the all-games-VAR approach but is it working? Most of these red cards have come after the referees visit the VAR. The referees need to understand that visiting the pitch side VAR must not amount to issuing a red card.
With the quarterfinals done, as many as 14 red cards have been shown to players so far. This is more than the last four tournaments combined. Infact, the penultimate tournament (Egypt 2019) had five red cards in total. The group stage of this AFCON had six red cards while the round of 16 games had seven. There was one red card at the quarterfinal stage. One can bet that the referees are not done as the tournament goes into semifinals from Wednesday. The question now is how many more red cards are we going to see.
Burkina Faso defender Steeve Yago escaped a red card for a “kungfu” challenge with just 38 seconds into the opening match of the tournament against Cameroon. We do not know if that sparked off a behind-the-scene call for the referees to be “more strict” with officiating and indeed to be more “generous” with red cards.
The round of 16 games opened this red card debate as there were five red cards in the first four games of the round. Cape Verde ended their round of 16 game against Senegal with nine men. Goalkeeper Vozinha was sent off for a collision with Senegal’s Sadio Mane. This was after Cape Verde’s Patrick Andrade had seen red earlier. At the end of the round, Sidney Obissa (Gabon), Alex Iwobi (Nigeria), Ibrahima Sory Conte (Guinea), Yusupha Njie (Gambia) and Nadjim Abdou (Comoros) all saw red too. Conte and Njie shared the spoils in Guinea versus Gambia. At the quarterfinals, Burkina Faso’s Dango Ouattara became a hero and a villain as he saw red after scoring the only goal of their game against Tunisia.
As these red cards have “shone” at the current AFCON, some teams may have clearly felt hard done by even if they may not have openly said everything they feel to avoid possible sanction. Nigeria, the only team to win all three group matches had their red card moment. The Super Eagles coach Augustine Eguavoen believes that Iwobi’s red card was soft and that playing with a man less affected his plans of executing the game in the second half. Iwobi was backing the Tunisian captain Youssef Msakni when he received a pass in the 66th minute but as the opponent tried to steal in from behind, the Nigerian impulsively adjusted to fully gain control of the ball in almost a 50-50 situation. Some pundits believe that Iwobi caught Msakni’s ankle in the process and deserved the red card. What is baffling is that Tunisia’s Ellyes Skhiri caught the ankle of Nigeria’s Kelechi Iheanacho in same manner (if not worse as the tackle was late. Iheanacho had beaten the opponent with his first touch) in the 52nd minute yet he escaped without even a yellow card. Same Skhiri had hacked down Nigeria’s Joe Aribo in the 6th minute and claimed the victim. You also wonder how someone like Tunisia’s Hamza Rafia managed to finish the game without a card. As early as the second minute, he had hacked down Nigeria’s Moses Simon with a deadly tackle but go away with it. In the 32nd minute it was Sanusi Zaidu’s turn to feel the deadly stamp the outstretched leg of Rafia but this time, the referee surprising ruled for a foul against Nigeria. Some players know how to fall eh! Same Rafia will hack down Wilfred Ndidi in the 42nd minute with still no caution.
Not a few people believe that CAF must review the AFCON refereeing with a view to getting it better. Aside the red cards, there was also a full time whistle drama in the group game between Tunisia and Mali as referee Janny Sikazwe of Zambia ended the game early twice. He was later said to have suffered heat stroke.
© NaijaSportsCrib – January 2022.