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Referee replacement fiasco results in Ethiopia loss but Madagascar-Niger draw seals Walias’ AFCON qualification

A bizarre, controversial ending took place in Ivory Coast’s 3-1 AFCON qualifying victory over Ethiopia on Tuesday that resulted in a premature end to the match due to a lack of available referees. However, the extraordinary ending did not stop Ethiopia from qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations as Niger was able to hold Madagascar to a 0-0 draw in Toamasina, a result that was not enough for the Barea to overtake Ethiopia.

Ethiopia’s infamous tendency to wilt on the road became visible from the start of their encounter in Abidjan against Ivory Coast. Wolverhampton Wanderers center-back Willy Boly got the scoring started soon after the opening whistle when he headed in a well taken corner-kick from Tottenham’s Serge Aurier, putting Ivory Coast up in the third minute.

A poor start turned into a nightmare when Ivorian debutant forward Jean Evrard Kouassi drew a foul in the Ethiopian penalty area with slick dribbling. Midfielder Franck Kessie easily sent Walias goalkeeper Teklemariam Shanko the wrong way to make it 3-for-3 on penalty kicks for the AC Milan player and Ivory Coast were up 2-0 within the opening 20 minutes.

The visitors responded to the early deficit remarkably well as Ethiopia began to string more passes together and get their talented attack involved, looking quite dangerous for stretches. Their reward did not come until later on in the second-half when substitute Shimeket Gugsa was sent in on the left flank and put in a low cross that was turned in by Saint George forward Getaneh Kebede. The 74th minute goal gave Ethiopia hope of obtaining a result only for the standout Kouassi to pop up and end those hopes only two minutes later. Ethiopia’s poor defending cost them again as the Wuhan Zall player collected a cross and got by two defenders far too easily, putting a low effort by Shanko.

Ivory Coast looked likely to hold on for the victory but the match was overshadowed by what happened at the end. In the 81st minute referee Charles Bulu collapsed due to apparent effects from the heat and needed to be stretchered off. Protocol usually dictates that a linesperson or the fourth official take over but in an unusual case the fourth official was Ivorian. Ineligible to be involved, a long dispute occurred on the pitch before one of the linespeople formally blew the full-time whistle to end the match due to a lack of officials.

The odd incident, however, was not to be dwelled on too much by celebrating Ethiopian fans once they learned of the result in Madagascar, a scoreless draw between the hosts and Niger. Being already eliminated in the cellar of Group K and not having anything to lose, the visitors stayed well organized and were a threat at times to steal a victory. Madagascar will be cursing their luck but could not find an offensive rhythm in their final two games which cost them dearly at the final hurdle to qualification.

Highlights of both matches are below. Ivory Coast and Ethiopia are the teams to qualify from Group K, making the upcoming edition their first since 2013.

Ivory Coast 3-1 Ethiopia (for USA/Canada readers)

Ivory Coast 3-1 Ethiopia (for international readers)

Madagascar 0-0 Niger

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