Mali may have begun their 2021 Africa Cup of Nations campaign on the right foot if we look at the Group F standings. However, their 1-0 victory over Tunisia was marred by a controversial ending to the game.

Zambian referee Janny Sikazwe - who officiated in the 2018 FIFA World Cupblew the full-time whistle prematurely not once, but twice. First, he did it in the 85th minute, although the game resumed when he realized he made a mistake.

But it didn't take long for the official to call full-time again as the game was ended seconds before the clock marked 90 minutes. That has immediately sparked the rage of Tunisia's squad, as coaching staff and players ran onto the field to express their anger at the referee.

Mali claims controversial win over Tunisia as referee blows early full-time whistle

Following a rather quiet, uneventful first half, the game would take a huge twist in the next 45 minutes. Mali put themselves in front through a spot-kick scored by Ibrahima Kone at the 48th minute. Later in the game, Tunisia have also been awarded a penalty at the 75th minute but it took more than two minutes for the referee to confirm the decision after consulting with VAR. 

Wahbi Khazri's effort, however, was denied by Ibrahim Mounkoro. Mali ended the game down to ten men as El Bilal Toure was shown the red card, in a decision that also required Sikazwe to check with the Video Assistant Referee. Despite the match was delayed due to nine substitutions and three VAR reviews, Sikazwe ended the game seconds before the 90th minute and didn't add any additional time.

After the Tunisians confronted the officials for the premature ending, both teams left the field while Sikazwe was escorted off it by stadium security. However, the game was apparently ready to resume as the Malians came out to the pitch nearly 30 minutes later.

But the Tunisian side refused to return to play"The players were taking ice baths for 35 minutes before they were called back out again," Tunisia head coach Mondher Kebaier told the press, per journalist Maher Mezahi. "I’ve been coaching for a long time never seen anything like it. Even the 4th referee was preparing to lift the board and then the whistle was blow."

"I told the players that we can only control what is on the pitch," said Mali manager Mohamed Magassouba in his second post-match press conference - the previous one was interrupted by CAF officials who said the match would resume. "Off the pitch, that's up to the administrators. When we were told to go back out and play the players were more than willing. Unfortunately, our opponents didn't want to come out."

Tunisia will continue their AFCON journey by taking on Mauritania on Sunday, January 16. Mali will also return to action on Sunday to face Gambia in Matchday 2 of Group F.