Benin, Sierra Leone Afcon qualifier rescheduled for June after COVID intrigue

Reuters , Wednesday 31 Mar 2021

The decisive African Cup of Nations qualifier between Sierra Leone and Benin, which failed to take place on Tuesday after five players from Benin were declared COVID-19 positive, has been postponed to June, officials said on Wednesday.

The match in Freetown was to settle a place at the 24-team Cup of Nations finals in Cameroon next January with Benin needing a draw but their hosts having to win.

Benin accused Sierra Leone of gamesmanship when told, some 90 minutes before kick off, that five of their players had failed COVID-19 tests and could not play.

"A shame for African football what is currently happening, we hope the Confederation of African football will take action," the Benin Football Federation said on Twitter soon after.

The tests were conducted at the team hotel but the results only communicated when they arrived at the stadium 90 minutes before the game.

Those allegedly infected with the novel coronavirus included lead striker Steve Mounie, who previously played for English side Huddersfield Town when they were in the Premier League.

The others were captain Khalid Adenon, first choice goalkeeper Saturnin Allagbe and the French-based pair of Jodel Dossou and Cedric Hountondji -- all key components of the team.

Their names were released by the Sierra Leone Football Association in a statement on Wednesday.

Benin players spent four hours on their bus while officials argued before the match was eventually called off.

"We all had tests before we left Cotonou on Saturday and despite travelling with a delegation of 80 people, how is it that just five players tested positive," asked Allagbe in an interview with French television on Wednesday.

"That is very difficult for us to accept and we think our officials took the right decision not to play."

The Sierra Leone Football Association statement said Benin officials "insisted that they preferred to return to Benin than play without those five affected players".

It added that under Sierra Leone COVID-19 restrictions the five should be isolated and quarantined and not be allowed to return home immediately.

The Confederation of African Football has not commented but told the two football associations on Wednesday the game would now be played in the next international window, pending a decision by its competition organising committee.

Matches in African club competition 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.

A local COVID-19 officer has been appointed for each of the matches in the Cup of Nations qualifying unlike the neutral referees, match commissioner, general co-ordinator and security officer appointed by CAF.

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