The Confederation of African Football (Caf) says it is “impossible” for teams to have cheated its Covid rules despite claims stating as much by the head of the Comoros Football Federation (FFC).
Making their tournament debut, Comoros were one of the standout sides in Cameroon, where they shocked four-time champions Ghana in a sensational 3-2 win.
It was in this game that Athouman says the Coelacanths fielded players who had tested positive for Covid on a lateral flow test, even though he told British newspaper The Guardian on Thursday that the players later tested negative on a different test.
“Against Ghana – I can say it now since time has passed – we had first-team players who tested positive and we managed to have them on the pitch playing,” Athouman said at his wedding.
The guests at the wedding could be heard laughing – but for African football body Caf it is far from amusing.
Having employed a Swiss company to carry out the PCR tests on players, which happened regularly before all games, Caf is adamant no individuals with positive cases would have been allowed to play.
“It’s impossible to have cheated the Covid protocols,” Caf communications director Lux September told BBC Sport Africa.
After beating Ghana in one of the Nations Cup’s all-time shocks, Comoros – an island nation of just under a million inhabitants who were then ranked 132nd in the world – belied their status when reaching the knockout stage in their maiden finals.
They were beaten in the Round of 16 by host nation Cameroon, with the match largely forgotten owing to the eight spectators who died in a crush while trying to attend the match.
Cameroon FA president Samuel Eto’o was in attendance at the wedding of Athouman, whose comments were considered to be for the benefit of the former African Footballer of the Year.
During the hosting of the Nations Cup a year ago, Cameroon were accused of overseeing positive tests for opponents – a claim Eto’o strenuously denied.
Comoros themselves had to field an outfield player in goal against the Indomitable Lions after all of their goalkeepers were unavailable through either Covid or injury.
Fifa, global football’s governing body, declined to comment on Athouman’s claims, saying the Nations Cup falls under Caf’s jurisdiction.