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Striker Cheick Diabate came off the bench to improve Mali in the AFCON semifinal defeat by Nigeria.
Mali held their own in the opening 20 minutes of the African Cup of Nations semifinal against Nigeria, but were undone by three goals before halftime.
Mali coach Patrice Carteron made four changes to his team from the quarterfinal victory over South Africa, but only goalkeeper Mamadou Samassa could emerge from the defeat deserving any credit.
The match passed Mali captain Seydou Keita by as his teammates struggled to contain a rampaging Victor Moses and the persistent threat of Mikel, Brown and Emenike.
However, when Carteron brought in Diarra to replace the ineffective Modibo Maiga, it created a new dynamic for Mali.
But it was Cheik Diabate's arrival for Momo Sissoko in the 56th minute which suggested Carteron had made a mistake with his initial line-up.
Diarra and Diabate combined to cause the only real threat to Nigeria throughout the match and the Rennes player clawed a goal back courtesy of Diabate's skill and vision inside the area in the 75th minute.
That goal alone should leave Mali supporters and Carteron asking themselves "what if?" tonight.