By Mark Gleeson
CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - The conclusion of the African Cup of Nations qualifiers descended into farce 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.
“A shame for African football what is currently happening, we hope the Confederation of African Football (CAF) will take responsibility and take action,” said a tweet from the Benin Football Federation.
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 the Cape Verde Islands, Ethiopia, Guinea Bissau and Mauritania all qualified for the finals on Tuesday, albeit with contrasting fortunes.
Cape Verde needed only a draw away to Mozambique in Maputo to prevent their hosts from qualifying but Faisal Bangal’s own goal handed the visitors a 1-0 win in Group F.
Ethiopia lost 3-1 to Ivory Coast but still qualified, while Mauritania won 1-0 away to the Central African Republic in Group E to secure their spot for a second straight tournament.
Guinea Bissau posted a 3-0 victory over Congo to catapult above them into second place in Group I.
They had to win the game while their visitors needed only to 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 reached the last Cup of Nations quarter-finals 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 minute 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.
Former Fulham striker Aboubakar Kamara scored on the stroke of halftime to ensure Mauritania qualified with a win in Bangui.
(Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Ken Ferris)