Benin refused to play a key Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) qualifier in Sierra Leone on Tuesday after refusing to accept positive Covid-19 tests for at least five of their players, including star striker Steve Mounié of French Ligue 1 side Stade Brest.
Benin, known as the “Squirrels,” said that their players had taken Covid-19 tests 72 hours prior to the game, all of which had returned negative, only to be informed one hour before kick-off by local authorities in Freetown, Sierra Leone, that five players in the starting XI had tested positive after all.
“What a comedy sketch,” tweeted defender Emmanuel Imorou as he and his teammates refused to leave the team bus outside the stadium to compete in the Group L match in which a draw would have seen them qualify for the 2021 AFCON in Cameroon.
After four hours on the bus, the players were eventually allowed to return to their hotel.
The Benin Football Federation (FBF) called the situation “a shame for African football” while goalkeeper Saturnin Allgabe said that it had been “a difficult day.”
The match, which will determine the 24th and final qualifier for the tournament, has been rearranged for June.
Rows over Covid-19 tests have plagued African football since last year with several host teams accused of producing false positive results to deprive opponents of key players.
On Monday, Kenya complained when four key players were ruled ineligible for a qualifier in Togo, also after test results were announced on the day of the game. The Kenyan FA insisted that the players had all tested negative in Kenya days earlier.
Meanwhile, the Group K match between Ivory Coast and Ethiopia was abandoned ten minutes from time after Ghanaian referee Charles Bulu collapsed in the 80th minute. Bulu was stretchered off the pitch in Abidjan and taken to hospital, where his condition was not immediately known.
When it emerged that Bulu’s replacement was Ivorian, the game could not continue and was abandoned. Bulu himself had only stepped in after the original referee failed to turn up.
Nevertheless, Ethiopia still qualified for their first African Cup of Nations since 2013 thanks to Madagascar’s failure to beat bottom-placed Niger.