Egypt has filed a complaint with the African soccer confederation against the appointment of a Gambian referee for the Pharaohs’ game against Cameroon in the African Cup of Nations semifinals on Thursday.
The Egyptian Football Association did not give reasons for its complaint against Bakary Gassama, one of Africa’s best-known referees. He refereed the Pharaohs’ 1-0 loss to Nigeria in the group stage.
The 42-year-old Gassama is known to Egyptian fans for having refereed the Pharaohs’ 2-1 victory over Congo in October 2017, which qualified Egypt for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. It was the first time in nearly three decades that they qualified for the tournament.
Egypt, which has won the African Cup a record seven times, filed its complaint late Tuesday. Representatives of the Egyptian Football Association and the Confederation of African Football were not immediately available to comment.
The Pharaohs advanced to the semifinals by beating Morocco 2-1 thanks to a goal and an assist from its star Mohamed Salah. Host nation Cameroon progressed with a 2-0 win over Gambia. On Wednesday, Senegal faces Burkina Faso in the first semifinal.
Gassama has also refereed many games for Egypt’s giants, Al Ahly and Zamalek, in the African Champions League tournaments, with some of them sparking controversy in the soccer-mad nation.
Thursday’s game will feature the two most successful teams in African Cup history with 12 titles between them. It will be repeat of the 2017 final, when Cameroon won its fifth cup, and the 11th encounter between the two heavyweights in the tournament’s history, according to the CAF.
Egypt relies heavily on Liverpool star Salah, who is still looking for a first major title with his country since its last the African Cup championship in 2010. Cameroon hopes striker Vincent Aboubakar, the tournament’s leading scorer so far with six goals, can lead the hosts to the Feb. 6 final.
Following its win over Gambia, Cameroon federation president Samuel Eto’o told his country’s squad to prepare for a “war” in the semifinals.
“Everything you’ve done, you need to capitalize on it. Prepare yours, because it will be a war, my guys, a war,” Eto’o was seen telling players in video comments.
Pharaohs coach Carlos Queiroz dismissed Eto’o comments as “unfortunate” and a “bad message.”
“I think he forgot that Cameroonian people died at the stadium several days ago, and so making this declaration of war before one game shows that he learned nothing from his time in professional football,” Queiroz told a news conference.
He was referring to the stampede that killed eight fans and injured 38 others outside the Olembe Stadium in the capital, Yaounde, before a game between Cameroon and Comoros.
“It was a very, very unfortunate comment, because football is not about war, it’s about celebration, joy and happiness,” Queiroz said.
Cameroon in recent years has also seen fighting break out in western parts of the country between English-speaking separatists and soldiers from the French-language dominated government based in Yaounde. More than 3,000 people have been killed in the fighting and more than 700,000 have fled their homes.