AFCON 2023: Ivory Coast secure semi final ticket with 122nd-minute winning goal

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Ivory Coast, the host nation, executed yet another remarkable Africa Cup of Nations comeback with Oumar Diakite’s decisive 122nd-minute goal, propelling the 10-man Elephants into the semifinals and leaving Mali heartbroken.

Following Odilon Kossounou’s dismissal for two first-half fouls on Lassine Sinayoko, the hosts were outnumbered for most of the match and trailed to a sophisticated curler by Nene Dorgeles.

On the ninetieth minute, Simon Adingra’s opportunistic finish gave the Elephants an equalizer; nevertheless, Diakite’s shot from Seko Fofana virtually won it with the final kick of extra time.

Diakite, though, had mixed feelings as he exited the pitch because he will be suspended for Wednesday’s semi-final matchup against DR Congo (20:00 GMT) after receiving a second yellow card for taking off his shirt in celebration.

Unsavory events occurred when the final whistle blew, with multiple Mali players encircling referee Mohamed Adel and arguing with the official, and Hamari Traore receiving a red card for taking his protests too far.

It was difficult to see what the Eagles were complaining about, as there appeared little wrong with the goal that sparked wild scenes of celebration at the orange-bathed Stade de la Paix.

When Fofana’s free kick broke to him on the edge of the box, Diakite, with his back to goal, reflexively stretched out a foot to tip the ball past Mali goalkeeper Djigui Diarra as his shot went through a packed goalmouth.

After an almost unbelievable run through the competition that saw them on the verge of elimination multiple times, the French club Reims forward’s quick thinking keeps the hosts’ dreams of winning a third Afcon championship alive.

Elephants find yet another escape route

After narrowly advancing through the group stage with two defeats and a mid-tournament managerial change that saw Jean-Louis Gasset sacked, the host nation continued their nail-biting journey in the knockout stages.

Guided by interim coach Emerse Fae, they once again staged a comeback, securing extra time and penalties to eliminate defending champions Senegal in the round of 16. However, the intensity of that match paled in comparison to the unfolding events in Bouake on Saturday.

The hosts seemingly had luck on their side when Kossounou blocked Sikou Niakate’s shot with an outstretched hand in the box. Still, the fortunate escape came with the caveat that Niakate was offside in the build-up, adding moments of confusion before play resumed.

In the aftermath, Kossounou allowed Sinayoko to get past him, resulting in a foul, but Yahia Fofana’s exceptional save denied Adama Noss Traore’s subsequent penalty.

Despite a setback as Kossounou received a second yellow card for tripping the same player just before halftime, the hosts displayed resilient defending.

They successfully limited Mali to long-range attempts, with one eventually finding the mark as Dorgeles, cutting in from the left, elegantly located the top corner with just under 20 minutes remaining.

 

Undaunted, the Elephants made a fantastic comeback, with Wilfried Singo and Diakite both coming close with headers before Brighton attacker Adingra leveled the score from eight yards after a Fofana shot ricocheted superbly.

In extra time, they kept creating the better opportunities; Sebastien Haller went close to the bar before Diakite abruptly ended the game with seconds remaining.

They will have to play without him against DR Congo in the round of sixteen, along with Christian Kouame and Serge Aurier, who each received a card for the second straight game, which results in a one-match suspension.

Mali’s jinx against neighbours goes on

Mali is likely to face scrutiny from African football authorities due to the unsporting post-match incidents with the referee, but their elimination is primarily attributed to their own shortcomings.

Despite having a numerical advantage, they failed to capitalize on it and adopted a nervous defensive approach even after Dorgeles secured the lead. Throughout the remainder of the match, Mali only managed one significant goal-scoring opportunity when Dorgeles delivered a dangerous ball across the box during extra time, almost resulting in an own goal by Nottingham Forest defender Willy Boly.

The Eagles will rue the early penalty miss by Hull winger Traore, even though Fofana’s remarkable save, diving quickly low and at full strength to his left, prevented the ball from finding the net.

Having previously gone unbeaten in the group stage and maintaining a flawless record in Afcon quarter-finals, Mali, who had never lost at this stage before, now reflects on another defeat at the hands of their West African counterparts.

Their track record includes 13 losses in the last 19 meetings between the countries, including a last-16 Afcon defeat in 2019. Eric Chelle’s team will find this result, and the manner in which it unfolded, a bitter pill to swallow.