AFCON: 6 Things We Learned from South Africa vs. Mali
Hosts South Africa reached the African Cup of Nations quarterfinals vs. Mali but exited the tournament in disappointing fashion after a penalty-shootout defeat in Durban.
South Africa dominated both possession and goalscoring chances in the match, but Mali progresses to the semifinals in a repeat of last year, when they defeated host nation Gabon in a shootout in the quarterfinals.
Mali will now face either the Ivory Coast or Nigeria, which meet in a quarterfinal on Sunday.
Here are six things we learned from Mali’s surprise victory.
1. South Africa Need to Practice Penalties
South Africa failed to turn their dominance and possession into victory in normal time, and the need to be more clinical was there for all to see. The game should have been over when Tokelo Rantie netted a 31st-minute opener, but chances went begging.
After failing to finish the job in extra time, South Africa hoped to progress on penalties, particularly when Siphiwe Tshabalala put them up 1-0 in the shootout with the opening kick.
But the reality thereafter was that South Africa were woeful with spot kicks.
Dean Furman’s penalty was easily saved by Soumbeyla Diakite. May Mahlangu’s kick was much better but was still kept out by the goalkeeper. Lehlohonolo Majoro’s kick was so wide it was on its way to Cape Town.
Going forward, South Africa will need to improve in penalty shootouts if they are to win their first African Cup of Nations since 1996.
2. Soumbeyla Diakite Deserves to Keep His Place in Goal for Mali
Not only was Soumbeyla Diakite the penalty-shootout hero for Mali with two saves that ensured his country's progress to the semifinals, he can also be thanked for the 1-1 draw.
Diakite produced some notable saves during normal time to keep Mali in the game after they were dominated and at times overrun by South Africa.
Despite his heroics, the 28-year-old Diakite is not guaranteed to play in the semifinal. He was only substituting for the suspended Mamadou Samassa, who took over from Diakite as Mali’s first-choice goalkeeper.
3. Mali Are Good Enough to Make the Final
There have been plenty of shock winners in the African Cup of Nations, including last year when Zambia overcame the Ivory Coast on penalties in the final.
Mali are good enough to repeat that trick this year, even when you consider they now face a tough semifinal against the winner of the Ivory Coast vs. Nigeria quarterfinal.
Mali have a resolute side led by goalkeeper Soumbeyla Diakite and his smart saves. As they showed in the second half against South Africa, they can play a bit too, so don’t write off their chances of reaching the final just yet.
They have never won the African Cup of Nations but could at least match their second-place finish of 1972.
4. Dean Furman Is Destined for Better Things
He may play in League One in England for struggling Oldham Athletic, but Dean Furman looks destined for bigger and better things.
The 24-year-old failed to make the grade at Chelsea, where he started out, and at Rangers in Scotland, but he has found regular football at Oldham since joining the club in 2009.
But, on the evidence of his performances in the South Africa midfield, Furman can certainly play at the Championship level. In time, he may play himself into the EPL rather than at the wrong end of League One.
Yes, he was one of the three South Africa players to miss their penalties in the shootout, but he caught the eye in what was ultimately a one-sided affair despite the result.
5. Seydou Keita Is Not Ready for Retirement
When professional footballers leave big European clubs and head to the Chinese Super League to collect a big salary, you expect to have seen the last of them.
With Mali captain Seydou Keita, that has not been the case.
After four seasons at Barcelona, Keita left the Nou Camp in 2012 to join Chinese side Dalian Aerbin, but that has not stopped him from representing Mali. The 33-year-old is now in his 11th year of wearing his nation’s colours.
Mali without Keita would be unrecognisable. As he showed with his performance and goal against South Africa, his international career has plenty of life left in it.
6. Refereeing Is Not of the Highest Standard
Refereeing in the African Cup of Nations has come under scrutiny, and the South Africa vs. Mali quarterfinal certainly lived up to expectations.
That was because referee Neant Alioum from Cameroon placed his entry for the bizarre decisions jury to make a verdict on during the 1-1 draw.
Alioum booked South African defender Thuso Phala for checking Malian forward Sigamary Diarra shortly before half-time despite the play being stopped for offside. Sensibly, it was rescinded at the interval when the error was realised.