Benin refused to play a decisive African Cup of Nations qualifying game in Sierra Leone on Tuesday after disputing that five of its players had tested positive for Covid-19 just before kickoff and should be ruled out of the match.
The farce left the final place at next year’s African Cup undecided on the last day of qualifying. Sierra Leone needed to win at home to reach the tournament for the first time in 25 years. Benin needed only a draw.
The dramatic final qualifying day for the 2021 tournament in Cameroon also saw a referee collapse, leading to a match between the Ivory Coast and Ethiopia being abandoned 10 minutes from time.
There were five qualifying places up for grabs and Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau and Mauritania took four with Benin or Sierra Leone set to join them.
In the Benin game, the positive tests were announced just before kickoff in Freetown. Two hours after the scheduled kickoff time, and with no sign of the Benin team, the Sierra Leone Football Association announced the game had been canceled and that the Confederation of African Football would have to make a ruling on what happens next.
The Benin squad was reportedly already heading for the airport to take a flight home.
Rows over Covid-19 tests have plagued African football since last year with host national teams and clubs accused of producing false positive results to deprive opponents of stars.
Talks between Sierra Leone, Benin and Confederation of African Football (CAF) officials in Freetown failed to resolve the standoff as both squads remained in their hotels.
Tournament plagued by Covid-19 problems
The 2021 African Cup qualifying competition has been plagued by teams crying foul over local authorities’ Covid-19 tests.
Kenya complained when four key players were ruled ineligible for a qualifier in Togo on Monday, also after test results were announced on the day of the game. Kenya federation president Nick Mwendwa said the players forced out of the game had all tested negative in Kenya days earlier.
Ivory Coast’s game against Ethiopia on Tuesday ended 10 minutes early after Ghanaian referee Charles Bulu collapsed and had to be taken off the field on a stretcher. The fourth official was from Ivory Coast and couldn’t officiate.
Ivory Coast was winning 3-1 with goals by Willy Boly, Franck Kessié and Jean Evrard Kouassi when the game ended with no more play. Although Ethiopia’s football federation said the result would be canceled, both teams have qualified.
Despite the loss, Ethiopia went through when Madagascar drew 0-0 with Niger in the other Group K game. Ivory Coast had already reached the finals.
Ethiopia, who were trailing 3-1 at the time, still qualified as shock 2019 quarter-finalists Madagascar were held 0-0 in Toamasina and had to settle for third place.
Willy Boly and Franck Kessie gave the Ivorians a two-goal half-time advantage and after Getaneh Kebede reduced arrears on 74 minutes, Jean Kouassi quickly scored a third goal for the hosts.
Guinea-Bissau beat Congo Brazzaville 3-0 in Bissau to overtake them and claim the second Group I ticket to the finals behind Senegal.
Piqueti broke the deadlock on the stroke of half-time and Frederic Mendy and Jorginho netted in the closing stages to seal a third straight qualification.
A Faisal Bangal own-goal condemned Mozambique to a 1-0 defeat in Maputo by Cape Verde, who qualified from Group F behind a Cameroon team that drew 0-0 with 10-man Rwanda in Douala.
Aboubakar Kamara scored in first-half stoppage time for Mauritania to earn a 1-0 win over the Central African Republic in Bangui.
In matches where only pride was at stake, Senegal needed a stoppage-time Cheikhou Kouyate goal to salvage a 1-1 draw with Eswatini in Thies and Nigeria outplayed Lesotho 3-0 in Lagos.
Victor Osimhen netted for the fifth time in qualifying to give the Nigerians a half-time advantage that was stretched by goals from Oghenekaro Etebo and Paul Onuachu.
Group E winners Morocco defeated Burundi 1-0 in another dead rubber with Munir el Haddadi netting just before half-time.
Qualifiers for the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations include:
Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Comoros, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, Tunisia, Zimbabwe.
Note: Benin or Sierra Leone will complete the list
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and AP)