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AFCON 2021: The Gambia and Mali close in on last sixteen

Mali midfielder Yves Bissouma (right) was at the heart of both penalty decisions

Mali midfielder Yves Bissouma (right) was at the heart of both penalty decisions

The Gambia and Mali both moved to the brink of the last 16 at the Africa Cup of Nations as they played out a 1-1 draw in Limbe, Cameroon.

Both goals in the Group F encounter came from late penalties awarded via video assistant referee reviews.

Ibrahima Kone had put Mali ahead with 11 minutes left after Ebou Adams pushed over Yves Bissouma in the box.

But Musa Barrow grabbed a point for the debutants in the final minute after Bissouma was penalised for handball.

The Gambia and Mali are both on four points after two games, which could prove enough to qualify for the knockout stages as one of four best third-placed teams.

The Gambia, the lowest ranked team in the competition, beat Mauritania 1-0 in their first ever Nations Cup game and a place in the last 16 would be a fine achievement for Tom Saintfiet’s Scorpions.

Late drama provided by VAR

Mali controlled much of the first half but The Gambia came closest to breaking the deadlock, as Barrow rattled the crossbar with a powerful free-kick from over 30 yards out and Ablie Jallow curled onto the right-hand upright with Mali keeper Ibrahim Mounkoro beaten.

In hot and humid conditions, Scorpions keeper Modou Jobe bravely denied Adama Noss Traore and tipped over Amadou Haidara’s curling free-kick in the second half, while Bissouma sent a shot narrowly over.

And, after Adams was found to have stopped Bissouma from latching on to Adama Malouda Traore’s cut-back, Kone scored his second goal of the tournament – having also netted Mali’s winner against Tunisia from the spot.

Mali celebrated their opener with their fans in the Limbe Stadium, but could not hold on to their lead

The Sarpsborg striker now has 10 goals in eight internationals for the Eagles, who have reached Africa’s play-offs for the 2022 World Cup.

But the intervention from VAR did not end there as Ebrima Colley’s centre hit Bissouma’s arm at close range and referee Samir Guezzaz pointed to the spot once more after checking his monitor.

Bologna forward Barrow side-footed into the right-hand side of the net to spark celebrations for The Gambia, whose first ever appearance at a major tournament is proving to be memorable.

The Scorpions face Tunisia in their final Group F game on Thursday, with Mali taking on Mauritania (both 19:00 GMT).

The Gambia coach Tom Saintfiet:

“I was surprised with the penalty they got. I have to see it again.

“The reaction of our team was fantastic – equalising in the last minute is amazing.

“If you are disciplined you can get points against anyone. We have a lot of young talent but some of them don’t play yet at high level, but they fought as lions and I am so proud of them.

“We have never played a Nations Cup so you have to celebrate the points you win – it’s important for the mind.”

Mali midfielder Yves Bissouma:

“I think we regret a little bit because the game wasn’t easy, but both teams played well.

“We have to stay focussed on the next game.

“Afcon is really hard, everyone knows that. Every team is a good team so we will try to win the next game.”

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