Mali, Ghana enter African Cup of Nations semis
LIBREVILLE (GABON) GHANA and Mali on Sunday clinched the two remaining spots in the semi-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations.
Mali won a penalty shootout 5-4 against the co-hosts Gabon after the match ended 1-1 after extra-time, while Ghana secured a 2-1 extratime victory against a 10-man Tunisian side.
In the later game in Franceville, a disappointingly small crowd saw Black Stars captain John Mensah give his side an early lead when he scored from close range in the 10th minute.
The sole north African team remaining in the competition, equalised in first-half injury time when Zouheir Dhaouadi found Sabeur Khalifa with a cross and the Evian forward made no mistake with a powerful header.
As neither side managed to score another goal in regulation time, an extra 30 minutes were played and again it was the Black Stars who drew first blood through Andre Ayew, who was gifted the goal by Tunisian goalkeeper Aymen Mathlouthi.
Mathlouthi went up to collect a harmless looking cross from Agyemang Badu, but dropped it at the feet of Ayew, who had a simple task in pushing the ball into the empty net.
Tunisian hopes of a comeback received a set-back in the 109th minute when Aymen Abdennour was sent off for elbowing Ayew.
The Black Stars will now face Zambia - who beat Sudan 3-0 - in the semi-final on Wednesday in Bata.
In the early match in Libreville, Barcelona’s Seydou Keita scored Mali's final spotkick to give his side victory.
In the penalty shoot-out it was Mali goalkeeper Soumaila Diakite, who became his side’s hero as he saved Pierre- Emerick Aubameyang’s penalty, leaving the striker distraught at the end.
He was sobbing uncontrollably and had to be helped off the field by his father Pierre, who played for Gabon at the 1994 and 1996 finals.
The co-hosts Gabon seemed to be on course for its first-ever Africa Cup of Nations semifinal after OGC Nice forward Eric Mouloungui gave them the lead shortly after the restart, but second half substitute Cheick Diabate scored a late equaliser for Mali to make the final score 1-1.
Mali will now take on Ivory Coast in Wednesday’s semifinal in Libreville after the Elephants beat co-hosts Equatorial Guinea 3-0 in Malabo on Saturday.
Mali coach Alain Giresse, who coached Gabon at the last Nations Cup finals in Angola, dismissed speculation that he regarded the victory against his former team as revenge.
”Those who know me will know that I am not like that. I do not need revenge.
”Our team prepared well and we were rewarded for our efforts. I am happy that we have qualified for the semi-finals.
Now everything is possible,” he said.
His Gabon counterpart Gernot Rohr said that is players had struggled to cope with the pressure. “We had pressure in all the games. “This game today was very difficult because Mali is a big team.
When I saw Cheick Diabate come in, told the players that he is that he is a very good player, I coached him in AC Ajaccio.”