Mali will play D.R. Congo in the final of the African Nations Championship 2016, as they beat Ivory Coast 1-0 thanks to a late goal from Yves Bissouma in Thursday’s second semi-final at the Stade de Kigali in Rwanda.
Mamadou Coulibaly had a golden chance to put Mali ahead in what was a goalless first half, but his penalty was saved by Badra Ali Sangare. Afterwards, the Eagles continued to dominate, and despite some brilliant saves from Ali Sangare, Bissouma was on hand in the 89th minute to steer home a vital winner.
As you’d expect of any semi-final at any level, the opening stages were very tight, with neither side willing to take chances on the ball out of fear of committing basic errors.
Both still had opportunities, though, with the two goalkeepers being called into action before the 30-minute mark. But as we can see courtesy of the CAF Twitter feed, it was Mali who seemed to be building the better momentum as we reached the 30-minute mark:
Then, Mali had an excellent chance to go in front, as they were awarded a penalty following a hand ball offence from the Ivorian defender. Coulibaly stepped up looking confident, but his strike was parried away by Ali Sangare in the Ivory Coast goal.
It was a moment that gave Elephants a lift heading into the interval, although neither side were able to notch before the referee called time on a pulsating first period.
The end of the first half saw this contest open up a little, and that pattern remained for the rest of the game. Neither side seemed keen on this one going to extra time, and although minutes continued to tick by without a goal, it was not due to a shortage of opportunities.
Coulibaly was withdrawn after a disappointing game, and his replacement, Kouame N’guessan, had the best of the chances inside the hour mark, but he conspired to miss from inside his six yard box.
As noted by sports journalist Robert Madoi, it was a pretty glaring error:
Indeed, Mali seemed to be the side growing into the game, and Ali Sangare’s goal was consistently peppered as a result. The 'keeper made a brilliant stop to keep out Hamidou Sinayoko's strike not long after Kouame's miss; at this point, it didn't look like it was going to be the Eagles' day, with Ivory Coast clinging on.
As the rest of normal time rumbled on, both sides seemed to be content with extra-time, although Kouame did waste another chance with just four minutes remaining. However, in the penultimate minute of the game, Bissouma put his side into the final.
The goal was testament to Mali's faith in their own football, as they remained patient and probing in possession. Indeed, after some slick interplay on the edge of the box, Bissouma was played through, and he finally got the better of the Ivory Coast goalkeeper.
As Kawowo Sports notes, it sparked jubilant scenes:
It was such a late goal that the Elephants had no chance to respond, with Mali seeing out the final seconds to book their spot in the final.
Mali’s win means we’re set for an intriguing climax, which will be played on Sunday. The chance to become the first team ever to win this competition twice is a huge incentive for D.R. Congo, although the Eagles will want to make the most of their first-ever appearance in the final of the competition.
Mali were made to work hard for this, and in a fierce clash, there were times when the result seemed as though it could have gone either way. But there will be immense satisfaction in the manner in which they eventually broke the deadlock, and they'll be extremely confident heading into Sunday's showpiece.
Reaction to follow.