African Cup of Nations 2022: Final whistle blown early twice in chaotic Mali v Tunisia clash

Tunisia's head coach gestures to the referee, claiming that he ended the group F match early. Credit: AP

A group stage game at the Africa Cup of Nations descended into chaos and ended prematurely after the referee blew for full-time twice before the 90 minutes had been played.

In a bizarre series of events during the game in Limbe, Cameroon, between Mali and Tunisia, Zambian referee Janny Sikawe signalled for full-time on 86 minutes, then ended the match when the clock showed 89 minutes and 44 seconds.

In the first instance, the mistake was quickly corrected and the game resumed, but the second seemed terminal and Tunisia, who were chasing a late equaliser, angrily left the field after the final whistle consigned them to a 1-0 defeat.

Twenty minutes later, after the Mali manager's post-match press conference had begun and the Tunisian players were in ice baths, tournament organisers ordered the players to return to the field to play out the closing seconds and injury time.

But, in even more dramatic scenes, Tunisia's players did not return to the pitch, meaning Mali were declared winners.

Mali's Moussa Djenepo is tackled by Tunisia's Hamza Mathlouthi. Credit: AP

Mali's goal came when Ibrahima Kone scored a penalty in the 48th minute awarded for a handball. Tunisia did have the chance to equalise with a penalty of their own in the second half after Southampton’s Moussa Djenepo was also penalised for another handball, but Ibrahim Mounkoro saved it from Wahbi Khazri.

Tunisian coach Mondher Kebaier called the referee's actions "inexplicable".

"He blew for full time and asked us to go to the dressing room, so the players were in their ice baths and then he asked us to come back out," he said. "In 30 years in this business, I have never seen anything like it."