Mali beats Gabon on penalties to make semifinals

AP, Sunday 5 Feb 2012

Mali beat co-host Gabon 5-4 in a penalty shootout on Sunday to reach the African Cup of Nations semifinals

Gabon V Mali
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (L) turns from hero to villain (Photo: Reuters)

Gabon’s hero from the group stage, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, missed his team’s fourth spot kick to allow Seydou Keita to score the decisive penalty and send Mali through. The teams had earlier finished at 1-1 after extra time.

Aubameyang scored three goals in as many games to help Gabon finish top of Group C and the wife of Gabon’s president has worn a bright yellow shirt bearing his No. 9 at each match.

The striker also hit the post and set up Gabon’s opening goal against Mali, but dissolved into tears and had to be consoled by teammates after his spot kick was saved by Mali goalkeeper Soumaila Diakite to send Gabon out.

Mali, which also reached the semifinals in 2002 and ’04, will play cup favorite Ivory Coast in the last four.

Later, Ghana faces Tunisia in the last quarterfinal to decide which team will take on Zambia in the other semifinal.

Eric Mouloungui scored for Gabon from close-range after Aubameyang’s cutback in the 55th minute before substitute Cheick Diabate equalized for Mali in the 84th as normal time ended level.

Gabon coach Gernot Rohr made three changes from the 1-0 win against Tunisia in the final group match. Mali swapped goalkeepers with Diakite returning after missing the 2-1 victory against Botswana last time out, while midfielder Samba Diakite was preferred to striker Garra Dembele in a cautious starting lineup.

The co-host, trying for its first ever semifinal, had a great chance to take the lead when Aubameyang sprung the offside trap to go clean through on goal in the 29th, but his sidefooted effort struck the bottom of the post and rebounded to safety.

Gabon’s dominance continued after the break and the deadlock was finally broken when a deep free kick found Aubameyang at the back post and his cutback allowed Mouloungui to force the ball past Diakite.

Mali almost hit back straight away when Modibo Maiga turned his defender on the edge of the box and forced a low save from Gabon goalkeeper Didier Ovono in the 57th.

The burst of action continued when Gabon hit the woodwork for the second time in the match as Daniel Cousin’s close-range shot rebounded off the post and into the arms of Diakite.

The single-goal difference meant Mali always had a chance however, and Maiga went close after pouncing on a defensive error only to see his shot smothered by Ovono in the 71st.

The equalizer eventually came when Maiga headed a cross back across goal to Diabate, who turned smartly and fired a low shot that squirmed under Ovono to set up extra time.

Gabon kept the pressure up as the crowd sang in support, but Mali looked dangerous on the counterattack and Maiga advanced past two defenders before slicing his shot wide in the 92nd.

Diabate had another chance for Mali in the 110th but guided his close-range header wide after Keita’s free kick found him unmarked in the middle.

Mali almost snatched the win in the final minute, but Keita shot over at full stretch from Diabate’s knockdown to send the game to penalties.

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