Former Liverpool forward Sadio Mane became the first beneficiary of the most obvious VAR error at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) finals in Ivory Coast on Monday night.
The officiating, and specifically the infusion of VAR at the AFCON finals, has been lauded as one of the best in football tournaments, with some opining that English Premier League referees should take notes.
However, on Monday, January 29, 2024, several questions were raised about the performances of match officials and the use of VAR as Ivory Coast eliminated defending champions Senegal in a high-octane knockout match at the Charles Konan Banny Stadium in Yamoussoukro.
Mane created Senegal’s early goal with some fine work from the left flank before swinging in a cross that was well-controlled by Habib Diallo and blasted into the net to give the Lions of Teranga the lead inside four minutes.
A moment of controversy arose five minutes later as the former Bayern Munich and Southampton man recklessly lunged into Ivory Coast and Nottingham Forest midfielder Ibrahim Sangare.
Despite the awful nature of the tackle, referee Pierre Ghislain Atcho of Gabon only issued a caution to Mane, who seemed agitated after receiving the yellow card. Deep down, he may have been grateful for the colour of the card.
What do the rules say? “Any player who lunges at an opponent in challenging for the ball from the front, from the side, or from behind using one or both legs, with excessive force or endangers the safety of an opponent is guilty of serious foul play.”
In simpler terms, Sadio Mane deserved to be sent off with a straight red card. Referee Atcho was not brave enough to brandish the card. The 31-year-old was lucky to finish the game.