Africa Cup of Nations: Finals field incomplete after COVID complicates Benin-Sierra Leone
Reuters
March 30, 2021
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The conclusion of the Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers hit a stumbling block on Tuesday as Benin refused to play their decisive qualifier in Sierra Leone after local authorities declared six of their players to be COVID-19 positive.

Players initially would not leave the team bus after being told the six were ineligible for the crucial Group L match in Freetown where Sierra Leone needed to win while Benin required only a draw for a place in next January's finals.

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One of them would have become the 24th team to reach the finals in Cameroon next year to complete the lineup.

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.

"A shame for African football what is currently happening, we hope the Confederation of African Football (CAF) will take responsibility and take action," the Benin Football Federation tweeted.

Negotiations led to the kick off being put back three hours but the revised time passed without play starting. The Benin federation later said its players had returned to the hotel after "being blocked on the bus".

There was no comment from CAF who must now decide whether the game goes ahead on Wednesday.

Matches in African club competitions earlier this year were dogged by players from visiting teams being disqualified by test results, some delivered just before kick off, leading to accusations that testing for the novel coronavirus was being manipulated to offer home teams an advantage.

On the pitch, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau and Mauritania have become the latest countries to qualify for January's Africa Cup of Nations as they secured runners-up berths in their groups on Tuesday.

Ethiopia lost 3-1 to Ivory Coast but still qualified, while Mauritania won 1-0 in the Central African Republic to secure their spot for a second straight tournament.

Guinea-Bissau posted a 3-0 win over Congo to catapult above them into second place in Group I.

They had to win the game while their visitors needed only draw but Piqueti scored in the last minute of the first half and Frederic Mendy and Jorginho Intima added two more after the break to see Guinea Bissau to a third successive finals.

Ivory Coast beat Ethiopia in Abidjan to top Group K with 13 points but Ethiopia, with nine, qualified as runners-up when Madagascar were held to a 0-0 draw by Niger at the same time.

The Malagasy, who made the last Cup of Nations quarterfinals on their debut, needed a home win to usurp Ethiopia in the standings but despite their desperate onslaught at home in Toamasina failed to beat veteran goalkeeper Kassaly Daouda.

Ethiopia were a goal behind within three minutes as Willy Boly scored for the Ivorians, followed by a 19th-minute penalty from Franck Kessie.

Getaneh Kebede pulled a goal back in the second half but the hosts quickly re-established a two-goal advantage through Jean Evrard Kouassi.

Referee Charles Bulu of Ghana appeared to become disorientated in the 81st minute of the match. With Bulu staggering, concerned Ivorian players held him up by his arms for a short while as others called for medics. Bulu was being helped toward the sideline when he suddenly slumped and lay on his back with his eyes closed.

He was treated by medics and taken off on the stretcher, although he was conscious when he was carried off. Reports say he had fainted.

The game was called off with Ivory Coast leading 3-1 because the fourth official at the game was Ivorian and unable to take charge. After discussions on the field between officials that lasted about 10 minutes, Kenyan assistant referee Gilbert Cheruiyot took over as referee but ended the game without any more play.

It's unclear if the result will stand. The Ethiopian Football Federation said in a statement that the game had been canceled pending a decision by CAF.

However, the result won't matter as Ivory Coast and Ethiopia both qualified for the African Cup next year in Cameroon anyway.

In other matches, former Fulham striker Aboubakar Kamara scored on the stroke of half-time to ensure Mauritania qualified with a win in Bangui.

They finished second in Group E behind Morocco.

French-born Kamara had only agreed to play for Mauritania, where his father hails from, earlier this year and was playing his second international.

Group I winners Senegal, who qualified last November, needed a 96th-minute Cheikhou Kouyate equaliser to avoid a home loss to lowly Eswatini, for whom Sabelo Gamedze netted a stunning fourth-minute volley followed by a frantic defensive rearguard action.

Victor Osimhen, Oghenekaro Etebo and substitute Paul Onuachu scored for already-qualified Nigeria as they beat Lesotho 3-0 in Lagos in Group L.

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