Mali will play in Sunday’s final of the TOTAL African Nations Championship in Yaounde after winning 5-4 in a penalty shootout to eliminate Guinea at the tournament in Cameroon.
The match between the arch rivals ended goalless after extra time and it was substitute striker Mamadou Coulibaly who decided the semi-final tie at the Japoma Stadium in Douala on Wednesday.
Coulibaly sent Guinea substitute goalkeeper Sekouba Camara the wrong way with the final kick of the match to secure the Eagles’ place in the final.
This was after Sylli National playmaker Morlaye Sylla fluffed his side’s final kick while Coulibaly ensured that Mali converted all their kicks to spark a wild jubilation.
Mali will have to wait until Wednesday night to know their opponents in Sunday’s final as hosts Cameroon take on title holders Morocco in the other semi-final match.
The Eagles were delighted to reach the final as there were few opportunities in the first-half as the tie between the neighbours was physical, restricting both sides to few opportunities in the exchanges.
Guinea managed to find the net on 27 minutes but the referee and the VAR ruled that striker Yakhouba Barry was in front of Mali’s last defender when receiving the ball.
The referee had to resort to booking four players as a result of the physicality of the game with both sides reluctant to venture deep into the opponents’ area before the break.
The second-half continued in the same manner but this time with some opportunities around the goal area which caused some anxious moments for both sides.
Guinea playmaker Morlaye Sylla attempted a free-kick from a similar position that saw him score the winner in their previous game but the Malian goalkeeper Djigui Diarra tipped the ball over for a corner-kick.
The Eagles then pressed their opponents and in the 69th minute they were rewarded with a free-kick at the edge of the Guinea box but Sadio Kanouate’s effort went over the bar.
Mali substitute striker Mamadou Coulibaly had a decent chance in the 89th minute to break the deadlock but failed to control the ball in the box after receiving a decent pass from midfielder Demba Diallo.
The match went into extra time as both sides failed to score and in 100th minute the Mali goalkeeper Diarra had to dive to smother the ball to prevent Barry’s curled effort from causing havoc.
Moments later substitute Mali striker Ismael Camara fired just wide with the Guinea goalkeeper Moussa Camara already committed.
The Guinea glovesman was called into action moments later as Eagles striker Bassakou Diabate pounced on a ball from the edge of the box but his effort was saved.
Sylli National had their brightest chance of the game in the 115th minute when bulky striker Mamadou Coulibaly shoved two defenders after receiving a long ball in the box.
The substitute attacker’s shot beat the goalkeeper but went narrowly wide to the relief of the tired Malians who played the extra-time in their previous match.
There was enough time for Guinea to bring on substitute goalkeeper Tsekouba Camara to replace Moussa Camara with the coach looking to cash in on the penalties prowess of the youngster.
After 120 tedious and goalless minutes that were in stark contrast to the spectacular matches played at the tournament the match went into the shootout.
Guinea playmaker Sylla, who had received widespread praise for his heroics during the competition, became the villain as his final kick was saved after his team-mates converted all their shots during the shootout.
Coulibaly maintained his calm to send substitute Tsekouba Camara the wrong way to send his side into the final for the first time since 2016.
The other last four match will be played later in evening between hosts Cameroon and title holders Morocco at the Limbe Stadium.
Mali will meet the winner of the Morocco and Cameroon match in the final at the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium on Sunday.
Guinea will play the loser of the Morocco and Cameroon match in the third-place playoff at the Reunification Stadium in Douala on Saturday.