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Top 10 most memorable moments from AFCON 2021

Senegal lifts AFCON Trophy for the first time (Img source: BR Football)

The Africa Cup of Nations kicked off in Cameroon on the 9th of January. There was a backdrop of controversy over player call-ups, the timing of the tournament, the host nation’s readiness, and the possibility of widespread COVID-19 infections

After a month of footballing action in Cameroon, AFCON 2021 come to an end. Senegal were crowned champions at the Paul Biya Stadium in Cameroon. The Lions of Teranga defeated Egypt in the final. The tournament was thrilling. Many incidents surprised the world. From referees making huge blunders to debutants shocking the big boys, let’s have a look at the top 10 moments from AFCON 2021.

Senegal won their first-ever Afcon trophy in history

The Lions of Teranga overcame every hurdle in their way. ‘This is for our people. They have waited 60 years for this trophy,’ said an emotional Aliou Cisse in his press conference after the final. Senegal have suffered disappointments in the past. They lost the 2002 and 2019 finals. 

They came into this edition of the competition determined to write the wrongs of the past. Sadio Mane led his team to glory, scoring the winning penalty against Egypt to clinch the trophy. He also won the player of the tournament award. After witnessing their team make history. Dakar erupted in celebration. Reports say the people of Dakar, the nation’s capital, celebrated all night. They were given a holiday the following day.

Referee Janny Sikazwe prematurely ends A game twice

The clash between Tunisia and Mali in the opening match of Group F ended in bizarre circumstances. 43-year-old Zambian referee Janny Sikazwe blew the final whistle in the 85th minute. The players and spectators were bewildered. Notified of his mistake, he restarted the match. He then blew the final whistle a few seconds to 90 minutes without extra time. 

He awarded two penalties and showed a red card to El Bilal Toure that stirred controversy earlier in the match. After the final whistle, chaos ensued. Tunisia’s coach Mondher Kebaier and his technical staff raced to confront the referee. Twenty minutes later, after Mali manager Mohamed Magassouba’s post-match press conference had started, the tournament organizers ordered the game played to a conclusion. Tunisia players refused to return to the field. 

The match officially ended as a 1-0 win for Mali. 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 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,” he said.

First female referee in Afcon history

Salima Mukansanga became the first female referee to officiate a match at the Africa Cup of Nations. The 33-year-old Rwandan served as the fourth official for the match between Guinea and Malawi. She then took charge of the game between Zimbabwe and Guinea in the group stage. 

Salima was part of four female referees who officiated in the tournament. She has officiated games at the Olympics, FIFA Women’s World Cup, Africa Women Cup of Nations, and Caf Women’s Champions League. “It’s a privilege. It’s a pleasure to me, to the rest of the African women referees, It’s an opportunity to open the door and to show that all African women are capable. They are capable of reaching that stage,” Mukansanga said at a press conference.

Sierra Leone returned to AFCON after a 25-year absence

Sierra Leone has been out of AFCON since 1996. In 2013, the team was one match away from playing in the continental tournament. They were unable to join in 2015 because of Ebola, then got disqualified because of a FIFA suspension in 2019. 

They returned this year in a tough match against defending champions Algeria. The game ended in a goalless draw due to impressive saves from Mohamed Kamara.

Mohamed Kamara of Sierra Leone produces a Man Of the Match performance against Algeria

Defending champions Algeria were held to a goalless draw by Sierra Leone. Their goalkeeper Mohamed Kamara stole the show. His heroics in goal helped his side earn a superb point and clean sheet. He celebrated the result as if it were a victory at full-time. The 22-year-old was named the man of the match. 

Comoros named a defender in goal against Cameroon

Debutants Comoros stole the hearts of the football world courtesy of their display en route to a last-16 exit from AFCON. They faced an uphill battle with all three of their goalkeepers being absent owing to a combination of Covid-19 and injury. Their first-choice goalkeeper, Salim Ben Boina was injured. Their Backup goalkeepers, Ali Ahamada and Moyadh Ousseini tested positive for COVID-19. 

Tournament rules state sides must play if they have 11 fit players, even if no recognized goalkeeper is available. Comoros was forced to name an outfield player in goal against Cameroon. They had to start a defender, Chaker Alhadhur in goal. Comoros lost the match 2-1.

Chaker Alhadhur in goal for The Comoros

Ivory Coast goalkeeper conceded a bizarre goal

Ivory Coast goalkeeper Badra Ali Sangare was forced off injured during a draw with Sierra Leone. He conceded a bizarre goal deep into second-half stoppage time before his substitution. With just minutes left till the end of the game, Sangare came out to collect a headed-back pass. 

To prevent conceding a late corner, he had to dive to gather the ball. While diving, Sangare’s right knee dug into the dry turf and he flipped over and lost control of the ball. He fumbled it goalwards to Steven Caulker who squared to Kamara. Kamara also lost his footing but managed to steer it home for the equalizer.

Big boys Ghana and Algeria were eliminated in the group stages

Four-time champions Ghana were eliminated in the group stage at AFCON after losing 3-2 to Comoros. It was undoubtedly one of the biggest footballing moments in Comoros history. Ghana’s loss came two days after Equatorial Guinea beat defending champion Algeria. It was one of the biggest upsets in the competition’s history. 

Ghana finished at the bottom of Group C with a draw and two losses. It was their worst performance ever in the competition. Ghana has made at least the semifinals in six of the last seven African Cups and was last dumped out in the group stage in 2006.

Algeria came into the tournament on a run of 34 games unbeaten. They came in as the best team on the continent. A goalless opening draw with Sierra Leone set the tone for their unlikely fall from grace. 

They were beaten 1-0 by Equatorial Guinea thanks to Esteban Obiang’s second-half finish. The result meant they needed to produce a win in their final group game to have any chance of qualification. Ivory Coast ensured that didn’t happen with a 3-1 victory.

Ghana’s fight with Gabon after a 1-1 Draw

Ghana were embroiled in controversies in two of their three group stage games at the AFCON tournament. One of them came against Gabon after they scored a controversial late goal that forced a 1-1 draw. 

In the build-up to the goal, Gabon refused to return the ball when Ghana put it out of play after one of the Gabon players went down injured. Ghanaian players couldn’t contain their rage at full time, and a melee broke out. 

The team’s captain Andre Ayew had to be held back by a teammate to prevent him from assaulting the Gabon coach. Benjamin Tetteh punched Gabon’s Aaron Boupen Dza but it wasn’t spotted by the referee. After a review, the referee summoned him from the dressing room and brandished a red card. He was also handed a three-match ban.

Confusion ensues as Mauritania were played the wrong national anthem, thrice!

Before the game between Mauritania and Gambia, Mauritania’s national anthem was botched. The audio technicians played their old national anthem. The country had changed its National anthem in 2017. their players heard the old anthem being played instead of the new one, three times in a row.

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