EVELYN WATTA / AIPS – DURBAN: An inspired Malian side, seeking to give their war-torn nation hope, silenced a packed Moses Madhiba stadium as they knocked out the African Nations Cup hosts South Africa in Durban in the quarter-finals.
Mali’s 3-1 win on penalties after a 1-1 draw following extra time guaranteed that the cup would be headed West.
In the other quarter-final Cape Verde’s dream came to a brave end as the team representing just about half million inhabitants went down 2-0 to Ghana’s Black Stars.
The first shoot-out in the tournament resulted in disappointment for the host nation as the Seydou Keita led side reached the semi finals for sixth time in the Eagles history, a befitting gift for Malians whose country has been torn apart by months of violence.
As they landed in South Africa last month, their thoughts and spirits were with their compatriots back home rocked by the war and always linked their participation as a kindle of hope for a nation in pain.
“We know things have not been good in the country but we know that when the national team wins everyone in Mali will be happy,” said Mali midfielder Mohammed Sissoko who has just joined Fiorentina.
On Saturday it took a special performance by the Malian side to maintain their cool against a team playing in front of their animated crowds packed into the 60 000-seater stadium to get back into the game after South Africa had created all the buzz in the first half.
South Africa’s first half pressure finally paid off just after the hour as May Mahlangu slipped through the Malian defence and crossed to Thuso Phala who passed the ball on for Tokelo Rantie to score from close range.
Mali’s inspirational captain, concerned by the crisis back home, restored parity. After a week training stint in the capital Bamako, Keita and his teammates opted for reduced bonuses to boost their country’s rebuilding efforts.
“You can’t imagine what it means to play for Mali at this time. I told my government they could reduce our bonuses. My priority is to play for my country’ “said Keita who punished a defensive lapse with a calculated header in the 58th minute.
Only Siphiwe Tshabalala scored from the spot for Bafana Bafana in the shootout so Mali will face Nigeria or Ivory Coast in the semi-finals.
In the other quarter-final The Blue Dolphins of Cape Verde pinned the dangerous and aggressive Ghanaians in their own half for most of the game in the West Africans’ toughest test in the tournament so far.
Ghana keeper Abdul Fatau Dauda was man of the match though it was substitute Mubarak Wakaso whose goals sealed the Black Stars’ semi-final berth.
Even the resulting penalty that was converted by Espanyol -year-old Espanyol midfielder Wakaso in the 53rd minute after Asamoah Gyan was fouled in the danger area did not stifle the Islanders’ ambitions.
But Cape Verde’s frantic search for an equaliser that gifted the Ghanaians as their goalkeeper, Vozinha, looking to support the attack abandoned goal and Wakaso pounced on a cleared header to shoot into an open goal in stoppage time.
Ghana will face either Burkina Faso or Togo.
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