Mali send co-hosts Gabon packing out of the competition after beating them 5-4 on penalties in their quarter final clash on Sunday in Libreville.
The Malians came from behind to hold the Eagles to a 1-1 draw of the tie that failed to produce a winner after 120 minutes. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the star of the Gabonese team turned villain as he failed to score from the spot whilst veteran Seydou Keita netted the decisive kick as the Eagles soared into the last four of the tournament.
The Panthers were cruising to victory after Eric Mouloungui shot them into the lead on 55 minutes only for substitute Cheick Tidiane Diabate to draw level six minutes from time. It marked the first time since 2004 that Mali had reached the medal zone where they are due to face Cote d’Ivoire next Wednesday at the same venue.
Gabon joined fellow co-hosts Equatorial Guinea in bidding farewell to the competition but it was a painful scene for the former who were five minutes away from playing at the last four of the tournament.
The tactically disciplined Malians never allowed the Gabonese to play their normal game keeping Aubameyang at bay in the opening minutes. The co-hosts managed to weave through the Malian defence by beating the offside traps.
On 28 minutes, Aubameyang was put through by Daniel Cousin, and he shot past Malian goalie Soumaila Diakite but his effort kissed the upright in what was the best chance of the first half.
The tempo of the game was at a constant in the second half and Gabon took the lead through Mouloungi who connected in from an Aubameyang cross. The Panthers remained in control whilst the Malians came into the picture gradually. Six minutes from time, Diabate stunned the crowd at the Stade de l’Amitie with the equalizer by firing in on the turn from close range.
The tie had to be decided on penalties after failing to produce a winner in extra time.
During penalties, Diabate, Mustapha Yatabare, Cedric Kante, Bakaye Traore and Keita scored for the Malians whilst Andre Biyogo, Bruno Mbanangoye, Mouloungi and Bruno Ecuele Manga found target for the Gabonese