By Boris Esono Nwenfor
Sports Writer, kick442.com-Cameroon
The Nzalang Nacional of Equatorial Guinea has booked their spot at the Quarterfinal of the Africa Cup of Nations after overcoming the Eagles of Mali at the knockout phase this Wednesday at the Limbe Omnisport Stadium.
Both sides could not be separated at full time (0-0) as the game headed into penalties with Equatorial Guinea winning it 6 goals to 5. Equatorial Guinea has thus qualified for their first quarterfinal game at the AFCON since 2015 that’s they finished fourth in that competition. It is also their third quarterfinal appearance in the country’s history.
Frederico Bicoro had the first chance of the game just four minutes into the encounter but his header was just wide from the post as Equatorial Guinea had Mali on the backpedal.
This is the first meeting between Mali and Equatorial Guinea at the Africa Cup of Nations, and it was the first time since 2012 that Mali’s first meeting with an opponent in the competition has been in the knockout stages (1-1 v Gabon in the quarter-final, winning on penalties).
The Eagles seemed to have found their feet in the game after that missed opportunity from Equatorial Guinea with the side taking control of the possession. Ibrahima Kone, their leading goalscorer in the competition with 3 goals came close to opening the scoring at the 8th minute but his left-footed shot was dragged wide from the goal post.
It has been a memorable competition for Ibrahima Kone who plays for Sarspborg in Norway converting all three of the penalty kicks Mali has had.
75% of Mali’s goals at the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations have been scored from the penalty spot (3/4), with all three being converted by Ibrahima Koné. The Eagles only scored one goal from 27 open play shots during the group stage (Massadio Haïdara v Mauritania).
The Nzalang Nacional can be proud of their performance at the Africa Cup of Nations as they came into their group as underdogs but managed to qualify from a tough pool that included Ivory Coast and Algeria. The excellent performance of the team saw them beat defending champions Algeria, ending the latter’s unbeaten record.
This game was also a memorable one for Equatorial Guinea as it was their fifth knockout stage game at the Africa Cup of Nations – they have progressed from two of their previous four, with both of those being in games that went to extra time (2-1 v Tunisia in the 2015 quarter-final and a 4-2 win on penalties against DR Congo in the 2015 third-place play-off).
Mali will continue searching for the opening goal and almost had it with Amadou Haidara coming close but his effort was well defended by Equatorial Guinea defenders.
The physicality and technical ability of the Malians were well evident as they bossed the game and had Equatorial Guinea mostly in their half of play, rarely threatening goalkeeper Bosso Ibrahim Mounkoro.
The game will go into overdrive as Mali was awarded a penalty at the 41st minute after Jose Antoinio was judged to have fouled Moussa Doumbia as he wiggled his way into the penalty area. However, after consulting VAR, referee Bakary Papa Gassama chalked off the penalty as the game headed into the break still goalless.
Mali began the second half with the same intensity they showed in the first half with two clear chances in the space of a few minutes. Mohamed Camara will first look to test goalkeeper Jesus Lazaro but his shot went above the crossbar. Amadou Haidara will be next but his effort was blocked for a corner kick.
The two sides could not be separated at full time and the game headed into extra time. Mali and Equatorial Guinea kept on creating goal-scoring opportunities but the ball could still not find the back of the net even after 30mins of additional time.
The Nzalang Nacional’s fabulous run will continue as they won Mali on post-match penalty shootouts 6-5 to set up a quarterfinal game against Senegal this January 30 for a place at the semi-final.
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