January 4, 2012

AFCON 2012 Referees - Opinion

It equates a miracle. CAF has finally released the list of the officials who will join the 28th edition of CAF Africa Cup of Nations which will be held in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea this time. 
An extensive overview dealing with this competition, which accomplishes some kind of transition to the big tournaments in 2012’s summer, can be found here.

African football is always based on joy and celebration; even though some of the great nations are missing, a good and exciting tournament should be guaranteed. It is also an important test for the match officials. As some of the great names have lost their FIFA badge (this aspect will be revisited later), there are some free slots on FIFA’s prospective list for the next FIFA World Cup. Therefore, this tournament is an ideal chance for us to observe the selected officials. 
Taking the principle of the so called “continental neutrality” into consideration which had been being effective since the last World Cup in 2010, which means that – if the involved teams are from two different confederations – the referee has to come from a nation which joins another confederation than the involved teams, there is a great need to have more high-qualified CAF referees. At the last World Cup, there were several matches which needed an official from AFC, CAF, CONCACAF or OFC. Honestly speaking, AFC and CONCACAF were the only trustful and reliable confederations, e.g. with Benito Archundia, Ravshan Irmatov or Yuichi Nishimura. While OFC has established a referee, Peter O’Leary, who could reach more than previous referees from this confederation, CAF has to make its own efforts in order to keep pace with the others. The recent youth tournaments organized by FIFA unfolded that CAF officials are really able to fulfil that. Néant Alioum showed an outstanding tournament in Mexico; Djamel Haimoudi and Noumandiez Doue reached a lot in Colombia as well. Moreover, the assistant referee who had dominated the last decade of CAF assistant refereeing, the Rwandan Celestin Ntagungira, crossed the age limit. There are two aspiring assistant referees in Africa who could replace him: Felicien Kabanda from – again – Rwanda and the young and excellent Senegalese Djibril Camara. Both are highly regarded in Africa and also by FIFA. Of course, one may not forget others whose nomination (or non-nomination) will be evaluated later.
On the whole it is hence of great importance to point out the fact that African officials are not only needed, but furthermore rising. One should not underestimate their chances and I think that guys like Alioum have a great future ahead them.

The selection made by CAF upon consultation with Pierluigi Collina who advised the CAF officials in Cairo roughly consists of three parts.

The 1st part contains the officials everyone could expect. 
Let’s start with Néant Alioum (r.) whose importance for CAF has already been touched. I have to admit that I had not known this official until last June when the FIFA Under 17 World Cup nominations were revealed.
As he was born in 1982 and only made his FIFA bow in 2008, it was a quite surprising appointment. One thing was clear: FIFA does not appoint such a young man without reasons. Moreover, an appointment for a FIFA youth tournament naturally means that this referee is also on the prospective list for the next big World Cup 2014. Alioum totally convinced me in all his matches in Mexico; a quarterfinal was the logical consequence. His strenghts are surely the good card management and the interaction with players; positioning could be improved. This was the result I personally drew after the tournament. He managed to top this off by the appointment for the CAF Champions League final in 2011. I cannot remember any other referee who got a CL final so early in his career while being thus young. In addition to this, CAF has nominated his two countrymen Evarist Menkouande and Yanoussa Moussa, both are very experienced. Menkouande can exhibit a World Cup participation at Eddy Maillet’s side in 2010, Moussa was always a bit behind him but also received many WC qualifier appointments and along with Menkouande and Alioum, he was able to savour the CL final.
This referee is the biggest chance African refereeing has got and I am sure that he will confirm this impression at the AFCON.
The next great African hope is Daniel Bennett. The South African has attracted attention with an appointment and two matches at 2010’s FIFA Club World Cup. Prior to this more or less meaningless competition, he also participated in AFCON 2010 and got the highest number of matches: 3 (along with his countryman Damon the final referee Coulibaly). These matches were surely no rummage. Cameroon vs Gabon, Egypt vs Benin and the semifinal Ghana vs Nigeria. There is no need to raise any doubts on how Bennett is regarded by CAF. Daniel Bennett, who was originally born in England, has established in the peak of refereeing. He was however injured in November 2011 so that an AFCON participation was a bit in danger. His countryman and former World Cup referee Jerome Damon has lost his FIFA badge. What we know for sure is that Damon has been injured as well until the end of this month; this might be the whole truth behind that. A comeback might be possible, but nonetheless, Bennett seems to be South Africa’s no.1 and furthermore, he is along with Alioum the potentially “hottest” candidate for the next World Cup. He will be assisted by Zakhele Siwela who ran Martins’ lines in Mexico’s u17 World Cup in 2011.
Mr AFCON: Koman Coulibaly (Mali)
Koman Coulibaly from Mali is the next referee whose appointment was certainly clear before. After a doubtful perfomance in his first and last World Cup match in 2010 (Slovenia vs USA), he did not get so much in Africa either. However, he is again joining FIFA’s prospective roster for 2014, even though there must be doubts on the question of whether FIFA has still the will to trust him. I think they should, as he is a great referee who potentially suffered from the outstanding high pressure in 2010 he was not able to cope with. However, he was not the only in this regard… The final referee of
the last edition, who is by the way leading the amount of AFCON nominations (it will be his 5th), will be supported by his countryman Balla Diarra who has perhaps some outside chances to assist Coulibaly in more important matches than Group Stage matches.
Let’s continue with the Senegalese Badara Diatta. He is one of the best and most experienced officials Africa has had to offer during the last years. It will be his 4th AFCON; Diatta has thus far overseen ten WC qualifiers and also joined the Olympic Games in China in 2008. It was however not enough for WC 2010. He surely did not get so many matches at his many AFCONs, the ultimate feeling was 2010’s 3rd place match. However, this time he could have the chance to get a quarterfinal along with the brilliant Djibril Camara. In all the u17 WC matches, he showed a perfect offside/onside detection and the good thing about it is that this could be observed in matches in which the assistant referees were challenged many times. Furthermore, he was again called by FIFA to assist Noumandiez Doue in December’s Club World Cup and the Ivorian Doue is exactly the referee we will focus on now.
The Pharmacist from Abidjan has been elected as best African referee of the year 2011. After two – yes, one has to call a spade a spade – poor perfomances at 2010’s AFCON, two rather error-phone perfomances at Colombia’s Under 20 World Cup, this decision is a bit surprising, but he showed a very good perfomance in the 2nd leg of last year’s CL final. Furthermore, his Club World Cup match was also ok. Although his nomination along with Songuifolo Yeo was consequently sure and expected, I still have my doubts on how to classify this referee, perhaps the AFCON will establish more clarity.
Besides, Rajindraparsad Seechurn’s (the ref with the difficult name) selection is no surprise either, he showed very satisfying performances at 2010’s AFCON, is also under FIFA’s eyes and his style is quite remarkable: I have rarely seen a referee with more calmness than him, furthermore, he sometimes seems to have forgotten the cards in the hotel, but this is style, it worked quite well in the matches I have seen from him. He was by the way in charge of a CL semifinal in the last year which underlines that he can reach a lot. His regular assistant referee Balkrishna Bootun who comes like Seechurn from Mauritius.
After that, we can concentrate on the only country which will supply two main referees: Algeria.
Mohamed Benouza (l.) is one of those referees who have not got too much luck in their career. He showed really many strong perfomances at international and continental tournaments and was consequently appointed for FIFA World Cup 2010. His team was completed by the Egyptian Naser Sadek Abdel Nabi and Maamar Chabane from Algeria. One of both, probably the latter, missed a final fitness test conducted by CAF in May 2010, according to FIFA’s policy of “stand as team, fall as team”, which I heavily criticize by the way, the whole trio had to stay at home. In the meantime, Djamel Haimoudi has established as Algerian no.1, at least in CAF tournaments. He has been elected as best Arabic referee by a newspaper. However, the quality of his decisions in FIFA U20 World Cup 2011 was below Benouza’s abilities. Therefore, I still favour Benouza, but again, the AFCON will clear such doubts. In addition, a young assistant referee has been nominated from Algeria, too. Abdelhak Etchiali will assist his compatriots. At this point, the Eritrean Angessom Ogbamariam can be mentioned. Having received the largest amount of matches at the last AFCON and many WC qualifiers, he can be a final candidate as assistant referee or at least in matches of greater importance at Benouza’s or Haimoudi’s side.

The 2nd part of CAF’s selected officials consists of referees without future. This is not meant in a negative way, but their age and the fact that they are not under FIFA’s observation leads to this statement.
The alphabetic roster of the selected 39 officials starts with Khalid Abdel Rahman from Sudan. A referee for only one Group Stage match, perhaps for two, but one has really to relativize his chances. He is one of those referees you can select for normal matches in which you need an experienced man you can easily rely on. Born in 1968, he has no chances for tournaments on FIFA level. It is Abdel Rahman’s 3rd participation in an AFCON, he oversaw nine matches in WC qualifiers and merely issued ten yellows. You will not find such an average anyplace else.
Eddy Maillet (l.), the potentially best referee from CAF zone in 2010’s FIFA World Cup, even though this was not too difficult, will blow his career’s final whistle at this tournament. It is not clear whether he is going to retire directly after this AFCON or whether he still wants to savour some qualifiers. In an interview given by Pieter Vink, who was frustrated that he was not on FIFA’s pre list, the Dutch commented that he could not understand how they can leave him at home but take a guy from the Seychelles. No Pieter, this is not any guy from the Seychelles, this is a great referee who will leave the pitch. His moment of glory was certainly the WC qualifier-playoff between Egypt and Algeria on neutral ground. At least, it was his most important inset. I do not know how much he will get, how much CAF is going to give this great referee. A final would be deserved but would not make any sense. The final must be the stage for a future referee who can reach the next World Cup, so I doubt that CAF will give him the final match, but please, give him more than just one damn Group Stage match.
After this tournament, Maillet could work for the CAF Referee Committee, at the moment, he is already the chief of the Seychellian one. Jason Damoo, who also comes from the Seychelles, will work alongside Maillet.
In the 2nd part, some other assistant referees can be mentioned.
Moffat Champiti from Malawi has been nominated, too. It will be his 2nd AFCON after three insets in 2010’s edition. He is a quite experienced assistant referee in his last FIFA year. Therefore, his statement that he wants to be regarded by FIFA in further tournaments surprised me a bit…but at least, he could be an option for a quarterfinal at e.g. Bennett’s side.
Same counts for Peter Edibe from Nigeria. A lot of experience could be necessary in the matches of the young talents that have been selected. Therefore, he could receive a lot of matches, too. He has the advantage like some others that he can handle every match, Nigeria is not joining the tournament as team.

Now it is time for the 3rd part of the nominations containing talents and perhaps meaning a turning point in African refereeing.
It starts with Bouchaib El Ahrach (r.) from Morocco. A good referee who could have lots of chances for belonging to FIFA’s prospective list. He will be assisted by the good and World Cup experienced assistant referee Redouane Achik. El Ahrach is not that young anymore, but he has enough time to show his quality. He could be a winner after Martins and Damon having lost their FIFA badges.
Bakary Gassama from Gambia is potentially a young talent who will get one match and not more, I simply do not know enough about him except his participation in the U23 CAN.
Gehad Grisha is probably the Egyptian hope after the retirement of Essam Abd El Fatah. He was in charge of a CL semifinal’s 1st leg. It is hard to evaluate his chances, let’s see what he is able to achieve. There will be no Egyptian assistant referee.
Nampiandraza Hamada  is the youngest official ever selected for an AFCON, at least based on the nominations for the last editions I have at hand. Born in 1984, he must be a big talent while coming from a country which never had a good referee (who reached a lot) to offer.
One should take this guy under observation.
Eric Otogo as referee and Theophile Vinga from Gabon represent the host nation’s refereeing. He may exhibit a small piece of experience which is definitely not comparable to others’.
Janny Sikazwe from Zambia, who seems to have overtaken his countryman Wellington Kaoma, is the last of this young talents. Actually, the officials that have been mentioned before have nearly no experience. It is hence a blindflight of CAF? We have to wait.
There is also Ali Lemghaifry from Mauretania has got a bit more experience and seems to have convinced the decision makers by his performances shown at U23 CAN in 2011.
However, there is still one country where something quite remarkable occurs. Kacem Ben Naceur, who was the clear no.1 of Tunisia, will not join the competition. Instead, CAF has appointed Slim Jedidi. Latter is 41 years old and is in Tunisia seen as the clear no.1. Ben Naceur has – thank Godness – much time to develop. However, I cannot totally understand the decision in this country. However, the assistant referee’s selection is no surprise, Beshir Hassani, who assisted Eddy Maillet at South Africa’s World Cup, is a candidate for the final, too.
There are remaining some assistant referees: Jean-Claude Birumushahu from Burundi who joined FIFA U20 World Cup 2011; Richard Bouende-Malonga from Congo and Aboubacar Doumbouya from Guinea whom I have never seen so far; Aden Marwa from Kenya, who assisted Helder Martins in Mexico last year, and naturally David Shaanika from Namibia. All these assistant referees are difficult to classify.
Felicien Kabanda is the last man to focus on. The Rwandan referee school seems to be good (see above). After Ntagungira, Kabanda. FIFA seems to rely on Rwandan assistant referees and Kabanda proved to be reliable. He could perhaps assist Noumandiez Doue at AFCON.

After all these selections, a few aspects should not remain unmentioned. 

On the one hand, the biggest surprise probably is that no Asian guest referee will join the competition, this was always the case in the near past (Nishimura, Al Ghamdi...). Last year at AFC Asian Cup, there was one guest from CAF, Mohamed Benouza, along with Etchiali and Meknous as assistant referees, however, they did not receive an inset as trio, Benouza was only appointed one time as Fourth Official. So the fact that no Asian ref will join the AFCON is potentially some kind of "tit-for-tat".
On the other hand, we cannot absolutely say that all the selected officials will get matches; perhaps, CAF is going to appoint two or three of them solely as Fourth Officials or Reserves.

Subsequently, CAF is spared from the question of whether they should take Coffi Codjia again or not. He lost his FIFA badge, hence, this question is definitely answered.
And finally, what about Helder Martins de Carvalho and Inacio Manuel Cândido from Angola? Latter was a very good assistant referee every time when I saw him, it is a real pity that they did not select him. Is it however a pity as well that Martins de Carvalho lost his badge? I do not think so. Yes, “we” have lost a big talent who could have reached many World Cups, but on the other hand, FIFA and CAF are merely doing something like that if they have clear devices on which such a decision is based. Martins was accused for not having been neutral in two matches, if these charges unveil to be right, it will be no pity but a logical and the only right decision. There is no room for a referee preferring a team. 
We do not know why. Helder Martins has returned onto the FIFA list at 7th January. The big question is whether his further career has been damaged, or better, inhowfar it has been damaged and whether CAF can really decide that he has to stay at home.

This should not tarnish African refereeing itself and our – at least my – thrill of anticipation towards the competition which is ahead.


  1. Niclas, watch this video:
    and tell me what do you think. It's about the penalty situation. It seems that Algerian fans hate the Mauritian referee. He was harshly blamed after that match.

    Furthermore, I want to thank you for your long and exhaustive analysis. It was really very interesting to read.

  2. Obviously, I meant Moroccan fans.
    However, now Algeria it's at home and Morocco is there.

  3. Perfect article! Thank you, Niclas, for it! You would be a good FIFA / UEFA member I think :)

  4. thanks Qudamah :D but perfect does not exist.

    Hm to my mind a really bad call. Yes, it seems to be an unnatural hand position, but the distance and pace clearly show that it is no handball. But I hate such videos which were only made to blame refs..

  5. the foul and the colour of the issued card at 4:45 is more interesting :S

  6. Seechurn has experience with Morocco, but here an example where he perfectly detected a non-penalty (at least IMO)

  7. No penalty? I accept your opinion, also because it seems a very difficult call. We can discuss. There are many assessments to do. Is the keeper in the ability to catch the ball before his opponent? In my opinion, the video isn't so clear. It is however also true that in these situations mmost of the players are cunning, going against the goalkeeper just to obtain the penalty. The goalkeeper is often and overly penalized. Anyway, Seechurn was close, so we have to trust him.

  8. Last year, I was going to make a thread on such situations. I think I now have to do that very soon :D
    There is in my opinion no touch, or better, there is a small touch, but Chamakh started jumping before he was touched by the goalie. Such situations are too often followed by a penalty, the goalkeepers are forsaken. A goalie lying on the ground is the best chance strikers have to fall. There was a similar situation in BRA-AUT (refereed by Mark Geiger) at u20 WC.

    see this: http://de.fifa.com/u20worldcup/highlights/video/video=1485100/index.html

    At first, it looks like a clear penalty, but I decelerated the situation last year and came to the clear conclusion: dive.

  9. Helder Martins de Carvalho is still on FIFA list... what a confusion in Africa.
    I'm sorry to say that, but it's the truth.
    So he is on the list, but not appointed for the CAN?

  10. Thanks for the info.
    I have no idea at all. FIFA seems to be stupid.

  11. what are your final candidates? My is either Alioum or Bennett.


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