Southern African refs make VAR history in Morocco

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Southern African refs make VAR history in Morocco

THE SouthernTIMES Mar 19, 2018

    Robson Sharuko

    Harare – A Zambian school teacher with a growing reputation as one of world football’s top referees and two assistant referees from South Africa and Angola provided Southern Africa with a three-man tag team that made history last Saturday night when the trio became the first set of the continent’s match officials to use the Video Assistant Referee system.   

    Janny Sikazwe, the 39-year-old Zambian referee, was handed the responsibility to become the first African match official to test the VAR system when he handled the CAF Super Cup final between African champions Wydad Casablanca of Morocco and Confederation Cup holders TP Mazembe of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

    Sikazwe, who is a school teacher at Kapiri Mposhi Elementary School in the north of the Zambian capital Lusaka, is the only Southern African referee who is heading for the 2018 FIFA World Cup finals in Russia in June this year.

    On Saturday night, Sikazwe and two of his Southern African compatriots – Zhakele Siwela of South Africa and Jefferson Emiliano dos Santos of Angola – plunged into unchartered territory for African match officials when they became the first crew from the continent to use the VAR system.

    The trio was in the Moroccan capital, Casablanca, for the CAF Super Cup showdown between Wydad Casablanca and TP Mazembe, which the hosts won 1-0.

    CAF used the match to test the VAR system, which has been tested in the English FA Cup, and Sikazwe was forced to use it in the second half of the CAF Super Cup when he awarded the Moroccan giants a second penalty on the night in the 58th minute.

    He went off the field to review the incident and after studying television footage of the moment the two opposing players came together, realised that the Wydad Casablanca attacker had gone down easily and it did not warrant a penalty.

    Sikazwe returned to the field and after showing he had reviewed the incident, asked for the players to hand him the ball before advising them he had changed his decision and rather than a penalty being given to the Moroccans, the Mazembe goalkeeper could proceed with a goal-kick.

    “We are targeting the total transformation of African football and we won’t spare any effort to achieve that goal,” said CAF president Ahmad Ahmad.

    “Our continent can’t remain in its current state in the wake of innovations. As a result, the Executive Committee and I are firmly committed to nurturing projects such as the VAR during CAF competitions.”

    However, the incident that led to the goal that made the difference, when Wydad Casablanca were awarded what was a soft free-kick from outside the box which they converted, did not fall under incidents that could be reviewed.

    The system only reviews key decisions, including the awarding of goals and penalties and ruling on off-sides, red cards and mistaken identities.

    “For the goal, I thought there was no foul because the player fell without any contact from my point of view,” Mihayo Kazembe, the TP Mazembe coach, told Cafonline.

    “However, the decision rests with the referee and we have to respect that. That is not to make excuses. I congratulate the player (Amin Tighazoui) who scored from the free-kick.”

    African football has always been tainted by complaints that home teams usually receive favourable decisions from match officials in World Cup qualifiers, the Nations Cup qualifiers, the CAF Champions League and the CAF Confederation Cup.

    In November 2016, the Mighty Warriors of Zimbabwe cried foul when they suffered the injustice of being robbed a crucial point by the match officials who somehow disallowed their equaliser in their African Women Cup of Nations finals match in Cameroon.

    The incident came on the day CAF announced the suspension of the Ghanaian referee, Joseph Lamptey, for his shock decision to give Bafana Bafana a dubious penalty in their 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Senegal.

    Lamptey was later banned by FIFA for having been working on instructions from some match-fixing cartels and the result of that game, a 2-1 victory for Bafana Bafana, was annulled with a replay being played by the two countries.

    Burundi referee Suavis Iratunga was the match official in the eye of the storm in Cameroon when she somehow decided to disallow what looked to be a perfect goal by Zimbabwe Mighty Warriors’ Felistas Muzongondi who had struck from the blind side moments after the Egyptians had taken the lead.

    Had VAR been in place, with clear evidence that Muzongondi was not off-side, by a country mile, and without any infringement on the Egyptian goalkeeper, the disallowed goal would have stood after the review of the incident.

    Interestingly, Sikazwe, the Zambian referee who was handed the responsibility to first deal with the VAR system last Saturday, was also involved in a controversial incident during the 2016 FIFA Club World Cup final between Spanish giants Real Madrid and Kashima Antlers of Japan.

    Real Madrid skipper, Segio Ramos, already on a yellow card, appeared set for a dismissal when he committed another offence but, after first appearing to reach for another yellow card, Sikazwe changed his mind and gave him a reprieve torching a storm of disapproval from around the world.

    “It was just a miscommunication between me and my assistant,” Sikazwe said after the game. “He alerted me to the foul and said ‘no card’ through the earpiece but I heard it as ‘card’. It was no more than that.

    “It was not one for the VAR, it was down to me and my assistant.

    “I thank God for the opportunity to become the first African referee to lead a Club World Cup final. It’s the time for African football to grow to the top level.”

    Sikazwe also handled the 2017 AFCON final in Libreville, Gabon, where Cameroon beat Egypt 2-1 in the final.

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