TIMOTHY OLOBOLU / AIPS in KIGALI: The Democratic Republic of Congo will be in line for their second ever African Nations Championship as they face Mali in the final on Sunday, February 7 at the Amahoro Stadium in Kigali, Rwanda.

Congo beat Guinea 5-4 on penalties to move into the final while Mali were 1-0 winners over pre-match favorites Ivory Coast in the other semi final.

Real de Bamako midfielder Yves Bissouma scored the winner in the 89th minute and as revealed by his coach Djibril Drame after the match, the midfielder had an ultimatum to score or he risked being substituted again.

“Yves is the best player we have in the team. Howeverm today, I put him on the bench as punishment for some bad behavior. When there were 15 minutes remaining, I looked at him on the bench and told him boy, you have to go in there and score. If not, I will get you off again. He went on and scored and I am happy for him,” Drame said after the match.

Mali had clearly dominated Ivory Coast in the match and were only unlucky to lose chance after chance. They should have gone ahead in the 31st minute but Mamadou Coulibaly lost a penalty, Ivorian keeper Ali Badra saving after Cheick Ibrahim Comara had handled inside the box.

Ivory Coast’s dream of picking a double, a year after winning the African Cup of Nations went up in flames and coach Michel Dussuyer admitted they did not deserve to win the match.

“Today, we were not ourselves. We lost many balls and physically, tactically we were off. Mali deserved to win this match. They were better than us. But we should not forget the fact that we have done well. This is the first time we have come through into the knock out stages and I must commend my players for that,” the Frenchman said.

Mali comes up against tournament favorites Congo in a match that is expected to be a cracker. Congo were drained to their last bits of strength by Guinea before going on to win 5-4 on penalties after 120 minutes of open play football.

Despite carrying the tag of favorites, they should be wary of a Malian side that has dropped giants off on its way to the final. The West Africans beat Tunisia 2-1 in the quarters and came off a group that had 2012 African Champions Zambia.

“Maybe they say Congo are the favorites but for us, we are going there to play football and give our best. This is a big stage for us and we are ready to fight. Congo is a good side and we will definitely device a strategy to stop them,” Mali coach Drame opined.

The side’s best performance at the CHAN tournament was a quarter final berth during the last edition in 2014 held in South Africa.

Mali will miss the services of midfielder Diarra Sekou who will be suspended after getting a booking in the match against Ivory Coast. Congo will be without influential defender Padou Bompunga who is also serving a suspension while enterprising winger Herritier Luvumbu is still uncertain after missing the semi final with injury.

** AIPS is the international sports journalists’ association with 10,000 members worldwide. More information: www.AIPSmedia.com

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