Johannesburg (AFP) – Benin refused to play a key Africa Cup of Nations qualifier in Sierra Leone Tuesday after challenging positive Covid-19 tests for five of their players.

A dramatic final day of qualifying for the 2021 tournament in Cameroon also saw a referee collapse, leading to a match between the Ivory Coast and Ethiopia being abandoned 10 minutes from time.  

There were five qualifying places up for grabs and Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau and Mauritania took four with Benin or Sierra Leone set to join them.

Rows over Covid-19 tests have plagued African football since last year with host national teams and clubs accused of producing false positive results to deprive opponents of stars.

Talks between Sierra Leone, Benin and Confederation of African Football (CAF) officials in Freetown failed to resolve the standoff as both squads remained in their hotels.

Benin hold a three-point lead over Sierra Leone in Group L and both teams have a chance of finishing runners-up to Nigeria.

Meanwhile, Ghanaian referee Charles Bulu collapsed 80 minutes into a Group K match in Abidjan and was removed on a stretcher and taken to hospital. His condition was not immediately known.

Originally chosen as the fourth official, Bulu handled the game because a fellow Ghanaian failed to arrive at the match venue.

An Ivorian was drafted in as the fourth official, but Ethiopia questioned his neutrality as a replacement for Bulu and refused to continue playing.

– Madagascar fail –

Ethiopia, who were trailing 3-1 at the time, still qualified as shock 2019 quarter-finalists Madagascar were held 0-0 in Toamasina and had to settle for third place.

Willy Boly and Franck Kessie gave the Ivorians a two-goal half-time advantage and after Getaneh Kebede reduced arrears on 74 minutes, Jean Kouassi quickly scored a third goal for the hosts.

Guinea-Bissau beat Congo Brazzaville 3-0 in Bissau to overtake them and claim the second Group I ticket to the finals behind Senegal.

Piqueti broke the deadlock on the stroke of half-time and Frederic Mendy and Jorginho netted in the closing stages to seal a third straight qualification.

A Faisal Bangal own-goal condemned Mozambique to a 1-0 defeat in Maputo by Cape Verde, who qualified from Group F behind a Cameroon team that drew 0-0 with 10-man Rwanda in Douala.

Aboubakar Kamara scored in first-half stoppage time for Mauritania to earn a 1-0 win over the Central African Republic in Bangui.

In matches where only pride was at stake, Senegal needed a stoppage-time Cheikhou Kouyate goal to salvage a 1-1 draw with Eswatini in Thies and Nigeria outplayed Lesotho 3-0 in Lagos.

Victor Osimhen netted for the fifth time in qualifying to give the Nigerians a half-time advantage that was stretched by goals from Oghenekaro Etebo and Paul Onuachu.

Group E winners Morocco defeated Burundi 1-0 in another dead rubber with Munir el Haddadi netting just before half-time.