Mali reached the semi-finals of the African Cup of Nations after defeating co-hosts Gabon 5-4 on penalties.
Eric Mouloungui had given Gabon the lead before Tidiane Diabate’s late equalizer forced extra-time in Libreville.
Neither side could find a break-through during the allotted 30 minutes, and Mali progressed to the last four after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missed the vital kick.
The West Africans will now face the Ivory Coast on Wednesday, after The Elephants progressed at the expense of Equatorial Guinea.
The semi-finals will now be without either of the tournament’s hosts following today’s events. It could have been so different for Gabon however, after they had held the lead up until the last five minutes of the game.
The Panthers took the lead in the 55th minute. After Mali had failed to deal with a lofted ball into the area, Aubameyang cut the ball back into the danger area for Mouloungui to sweep home via a deflection. The goal was met with euphoric celebrations from players and fans alike, as all associated with Gabon dreamt of making their first ever African Nations’ semi-finals.
The goal was no more than what Gabon deserved, having looked the more dangerous of the two sides after striking the woodwork twice through that man Aubameyang and striker Daniel Cousin. Mali, on the other hand, looked disorganised and devoid of ideas as time began to run out for them and their ACONs’ campaign.
An equalizer was found however, as Tidiane Diabate’s shot on the turn squirmed under Didier Ovono’s body and into the net. The goalkeeper’s frustration at conceding was there for all to see, as was the relief felt by the Malian players having found a goal that had previously looked unlikely.
After extra-time passed without any changes to the scoreline, Barcelona’s Seydou Keita held his nerve to hit the winning penalty after Aubameyang’s effort had been saved.
Mali’s bid to win their first ever African Nations’ crown stays alive for now. As for Gabon, their adventure comes to an agonizing conclusion.