Spectators attending the clash between Mali and Gabon at the 2023 U-23 Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) on Sunday barely had time to settle before the scoreboard underwent a dramatic transformation.
In the 3rd minute of the Group B fixture at the Ibn Batouta Stadium in Tangier, the referee awarded Gabon a penalty following a foul inside the box.
Emmanuel Ovono confidently faced Mali goalkeeper Lassine Diarra and made no mistake, giving the U-23 Panthers a 1-0 lead.
However, that goal ignited a fierce response from Mali, who established their presence in Gabon’s territory. Under pressure, goalkeeper François Junior Bekale committed a serious foul, conceding a penalty to the Malians. Mamadou Sangaré equalized the scoreline, making it 1-1.
Shortly before halftime, Sangaré’s teammate Cheickna Doumbia emulated his success, granting Mali an advantage just minutes before the break.
It’s worth noting that the Gabon shot-stopper – Junior Bekale – got sent off at the end of the first half.
In the 60th minute, Badra Alou Diallo made his first substitutions, bringing on Coli Saco and Alassane Tamboura, who injected a fresh impetus into the struggling Mali team in the second half.
The coaching decisions proved to be a winning formula. Just when it seemed the match was heading for a 2-2 draw, Alassane Tamboura, perfectly assisted by Coli Saco, ruthlessly beat Gabon goalkeeper securing a 3-1 victory for Mali’s promising team.
Gabon, making their return to the U-23 Africa Cup of Nations since their triumph in the inaugural edition in Morocco in 2011, suffered a defeat.
However, Saturnin Ibela Ignambi’s squad will have the opportunity to redeem themselves on Wednesday when they face Niger. Meanwhile, Mali will face Egypt in their next fixture.