SA ref in impresses on Africa Cup of Nations debut … now over to Bafana

Referee Abongile Tom during the 2023 African Football League match match between Esperance Tunis and TP Mazembe in Rades Stadium in Rades, Tunisia

File. South Africa’s Abongile Tom made an impressive Africa Cup of Nations debut, that it could bode well for Bafana Bafana at the tournament. Picture: Mehrez Toujani/BackpagePix

Published Jan 15, 2024


So much for Nigeria having arguably the most potent attack at this year’s Africa Cup of Nations finals taking place in the Ivory Coast!

The Super Eagles began what most experts had predicted would be a successful campaign that would deliver a fourth title in disappointing fashion as they were held 1-1 by Equatorial Guinea on Sunday.

The discerning Afcon fan would not have been particularly surprised, though, given the Nzelang Nacional’s recent showing at the biennial continental showpiece where they are making a fourth successive appearance.

Equatorial Guinea have pulled off some surprise results in recent years and the fact that their starting line-up showed just one change from the team that played at the previous tournament spoke volumes for their continuity.

Victor Osimhen levels matters

They even scored first via Iban Salvador during the initial stanza, only for the reigning African Footballer of the Year Victor Osimhen to peg them back with a headed equaliser within two minutes. The Napoli striker inexplicably missed a sitter that would have won maximum points for Nigeria late in the second half to make Nigeria’s clash on Thursday against the hosts, who began their campaign with a 2-0 win over Guinea-Bissau, all the more important.

While the talk of this match was all about the favourites failing to win, I was particularly impressed by the man in the middle.

South Africa’s Abongile Tom made such an impressive Afcon debut, I am hoping his showing is a sign of things to come for Bafana Bafana at the tournament.

The young referee from the Mother City was in total control of the match, being decisive and making the right calls, yet not taking the limelight. While he has officiated in CAF club competitions, this was his first match at the continent’s premier tournament and he did not look the least bit overawed by the occasion or even the big stars around him.

Some would suggest Tom was helped by the fact the stadium was disappointingly empty, as compared to the packed arena for the opener on Saturday night.

Crowd or no crowd, the 32-year-old was totally focused on proceedings and impressed with how he made it clear to the players just who the man in charge was – complementing his stern instructions with hand gestures that clearly said, ‘I’m not taking your nonsense’.

When Jannick Buyla pulled Sanusi by his pants and tried to argue against the free-kick, the Equatorial Guinea player was swiftly put in his place via a tongue lashing. Ditto for when Nigeria’s Alhasan Yusuf complained about a tackle against him, Tom telling him in no uncertain terms that he was the one making the decisions.

It was a tight match which saw the National Thunder holding on for dear life as Nigeria threw everything bar the proverbial kitchen sink at them in an effort to get the winner – the kind that would have tested many a rookie referee.

And Tom passed with flying colours, all the bookings he made being spot on and his decisions all unquestionable.

It is the kind of performance one hopes will inspire Rownen Williams and his teammates into doing their best at the tournament and making the nation proud.