Bad day in office – Southern African referees in the eye of a storm after World Cup controversy

By Robson Sharuko

Harare – The cream of Southern African referees were thrust into the spotlight, for all the wrong reasons, last weekend as Zambia’s hopes for a maiden appearance at the FIFA World Cup finals ended amid a blaze of controversy in Nigeria while Bafana Bafana lived to fight another day.   

Daniel Bennett, the England-born two-time South African Referee of the Season, found himself in the eye of a Ghanaian storm after his decision to disallow what appeared to be a genuine goal, scored by the Black Stars late in the game, against Uganda in Kampala.

Botswana referee Joshua Bondo, in his first major international assignment after the humiliation of being expelled from the 2017 COSAFA Castle Cup for poor officiating, also courted controversy in Nigeria when he disallowed a goal by Zambia’s Augustine Mulenga in the 52nd minute for offside.

Chipolopolo, needing a win to take the contest to the final weekend of qualifiers where the Zambians host Cameroon and Nigeria are away to Algeria, lost the match 0-1 when Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi, on as a substitute, struck the killer goal late into the game.

Zambian coach Wedson Nyirenda believes the outcome could have been different, had Bondo not overruled Mulenga’s effort and his men, who fought with both courage and style, could have upset the Super Eagles in their backyard and kept their World Cup dreams alive.

“There were a lot of decisions which went the way of the home team (Nigeria), the goal we scored was not offside,’’ Nyirenda said.

“I cannot talk about it, the game is over, playing away against the great stars of the World football like Mikel Obi and Victor Moses, it is another motivation to the players to do well.’’

The events in Uyo have triggered an online spat between Zambian and Nigerian football fans as the controversy from that game refuses to die down.

There was controversy, too, in Kampala where, with three minutes of time added on having elapsed, Ghana’s Daniel Amartey bundled the ball home after it had rebounded off goalkeeper Denis Onyango and, although television replays showed that the goal should have stood, Bennet – on the advice of his assistant referee – disallowed it for an alleged offside offence.

It was a cruel blow to the Black Stars of Ghana, who needed to win the game and then hope to beat Egypt in their final battle at home to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup finals, with the draw in Kampala helping the Pharaohs to qualify for their first World Cup show since 1990 after they beat Congo-Brazzaville 2-1 before 100,000 fans in Alexandria.

Ghana, who came within a successful penalty conversion from becoming the first African side to reach the semi-finals of the World Cup in 2010 in South Africa, were seeking a fourth successive appearance at football’s biggest festival and after their elimination, have now launched a protest to have the match in Kampala replayed.

“The Ghana Football Association (GFA) has lodged a protest with FIFA over the performance of referee Daniel Bennett and his assistants Eldrick Adelaide and Steve Marie during the 2018 World Cup qualifier against Uganda on Saturday,’’ the country’s football controlling body said in a statement.

“The GFA filed the protest to football’s world governing body, FIFA, immediately after the match at the Mandela National Stadium in Kampala. Mr Bennett and assistants denied Ghana a perfect goal in the 93rd minute with television replays showing that it was a perfect goal.

“The referee also denied Ghana a penalty earlier in the second-half when Ghana midfielder Frank Acheampong was brought down in the box.

“These and several other decisions by the match officials have left the GFA with no option than to ask FIFA to examine their performances.    

“The GFA respectfully asked FIFA to consider the possibility of a replay in order to serve the ends of justice without fear or favour.’’

Furious Ghanaians also took to Twitter to criticise Bennett, a school teacher at Mondear Primary School in Johannesburg who was born in England and has been an international referee since 2003, with many of them calling for his ban from the game.

Ironically, Ghanaian referee Joseph Lamptey was banned by FIFA for life for giving the South Africans a ghost penalty in the World Cup qualifier against Senegal with the world football governing body ruling the match official’s conduct was a manipulation of the result.

“How on earth can this goal be disallowed? @ghanafaofficial we have to protest . . . this is no ‘fa ma Nyame’ matter . . . I’m so furious,’’ Ghanaian captain Asamoah Gyan thundered on Twitter.

And a number of his countrymen and women agreed.

Juliet Bawuah described Bennett as a “disgrace’’ who should be banned for life.

“Reason for the disallowed goal? Referee Daniel Bennett is just a DISGRACE. Not for World Cup slot but s protest, sanction, & replay maybe?’’ she said on Twitter

And Dan Theal also called for a ban.

“South African referee Daniel Bennett should be banned for life. FIFA are you paying attention? Uganda vs Ghana,’’ he said.

The Lamptey controversy also resurfaced.

“Was Ref. Daniel Bennett from #SouthAfrica seeking revenge for what Joseph Lamptey did against his country?’’ asked Ben Koku Glover. “He is a disgrace to the job.’’

Bafana Bafana thrashed Burkina Faso 3-1 in Johannesburg to revive their campaign but they need to win both matches against Senegal, who beat Cape Verde 2-0 in Praia, for them to win the ticket to the World Cup finals in Russia.

A draw for the West Africans in either game, in South Africa on November 10 and in Dakar four days later, will be enough for the Lions of Teranga to return to the World Cup finals.

The scheduled South Africa/Senegal replay is also waiting for the determination of the Court of Arbitration for Sport after the Burkinabe challenged the decision for another match to be played.

The Burkinabe said the decision by FIFA to order a replay was one “tainted by abuse of power and irrelevant to the texts of the international football authority.”

“The Federation, which relies on its declaration to appeal to the respect of the virtues of football, invites the Burkinabe sports public to the serenity and the mobilization around the Stallions.”

But FIFA insist the replay will go ahead as scheduled.

“The committee confirmed the decision of the Bureau for FIFA World Cup Qualifiers, which had ordered a replay of the qualification match between South Africa and Senegal held on 12 November 2016,” the article reads.

“This confirmation came after the Court of Arbitration for Sport upheld the lifetime ban of match referee Joseph Lamptey for match manipulation, the ruling imposed by the FIFA Disciplinary and Appeal Committees.

“The match will be replayed during the November 2017 international window, with the exact date to be confirmed in due course.”

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