The hosts of the African Cup of Nations thought they had the win they craved against the visiting Eagles but an amazing late goal flurry denied them at the death.
African Cup of Nations Fixtures, Results
With the attack on the Togolese national team looming over the proceedings, 50,000 spectators filled the Estadio 11 Novembro in Luanda to watch the Palancas Negras take on the Eagles of Mali in the opener of the African Cup of Nations. A minute of silence was observed to commemorate those who lost their lives in the terrorist attack.
The Malians began the match without the injured Seydou Keita while the Angolans benefitted from having Flavio Amado fit enough to take part.
The visitors kicked off the encounter but quickly gave the ball back to their hosts and it was the Angolans who had the first half chance of the match but the Malian keeper, Mahamadou Sidibe, intervened in time to put out the danger. The game was slow to settle as both teams had trouble finding each with inaccurate passes.
The first shot of the match was taken by Flavio in the 5th minute after a quickly taken throw in but it was straight at the opposing keeper who had no trouble scooping it up.
Though ineffective, the strike seemed to lift both the crowd and the rest of the team as they created another opportunity but Mabina’s cross was not taken advantage of. Flavio was once again at the center of things shortly thereafter yet couldn’t create enough space for himself to get a good look on goal.
The Malians on the other hand were still finding difficulties adapting to the pressing strategy implemented by Angola’s tactician, Manel Jose. The first corner of the game came in the 10th minute when Rui Marques played the ball out of play despite having plenty of space to chest it down or let a team-mate intercept it. Luckily for him nothing came of the ensuing Malian attempt.
After that, the West Africans had an excellent look at goal but the linesman wrongly whistled an inexistent offside. Angola’s Dede went down for a lunging tackle in the 19th minute and came up limping and Bakaye followed him out of play to receive treatment for an elbow to the face.
The home side got their first corner in the 21st after a cross from Mabina was deflected. Al Ahly’s Gilberto took it but Kali was not able to finish off the play.
With Most Angolans in the Malian side of the pitch, a quickly launched counter could’ve resulted in a goal for the Eagles but the chance was squandered after a poor pass from Le Mans’ Modibo Maiga.
Dede eventually had to come off when he aggravated his hamstring pull. He was replaced by Djalima Campos. Even deep into the first half there was no continuity to the play of either side as most of the play was constricted to the midfield.
The fans began to grow somewhat frustrated until the 31st minute when a good chance was created the lively right back, Mabina, and substitute Djalma got an angled header on target but Sidibe was well placed at the near post to save it. Eagles player Maiga then made way for the influential Seydou Keita as Stephen Keshi looked to create a better dynamic between his disjointed players on the pitch.
The Barcelona midfielder’s first touch was off a free kick but he hit it straight out of play. Manucho was found on a deep pass on the ensuing play and was taken down on the edge of the box by Ousmane Berthe. As usual, Gilberto took charge of the free kick. His cross to a wide open Flavio ended up being the key as he headed impeccably from point blank range to launch the Palancas Negras supporters into wild celebrations.
Gilberto could have doubled the advantage on another set piece but his shot floated over the crossbar. Five minutes before halftime the Angolans got their second goal when Mabinga brilliantly found the diminutive but extremely well placed Flavio who gave Sidibe no chance at all and allowed his side to take a 2-0 advantage into the locker rooms as Keshi was left to contemplate how to turn things around in the second period.
The Malians began the second half looking more motivated with Keita doing his best to lift his team-mates. His efforts brought about two successive corner kicks and Mahamadou Diarra should have scored from close distance but his hesitation gave Carlos Fernandes enough time to close in on home and block his shot.
Kanoute then took his turn in the 50th minute from outside the area and completely missed the target. Sensing the danger which was brewing the home team created a few of their own attacks with Mabina continuing to terrorize the Malians on the right flank.
Bakaye Traore was taken off for defender Lassana Fane in the 57th minute as Keshi looked for solutions but only Keita looked capable of imposing himself on the ball in the densely packed midfield of the Angolans who kept hassling their opponents.
The 65th minute brought what looked to be the killer blow as Mbagayoko was far too hesitant in his own area and Gilberto dispossessed him and was fouled right after. The Egyptian referee did not hesitate to whistle a penalty kick which had to be struck, and scored, twice by Gilberto himself after his first attempt was called off due to Manucho running into the penalty area too early.
A poor clearance from the Malians in the 73rd eventually led to Gilberto being taken down by Keita and another penalty kick was awarded to Angola. This time it was Manucho who sent the keeper the wrong way heaped more misery on a discombobulated Mali team that hardly knew what hit them.
Angolan goalkeeper Carlos spilled the ball in the four minutes after that and Keita pounced to pull one back for his team. Sevilla’s Freddy Kanoute then got into the act himself to reduce the deficit further.
The crowd was shocked in the 92nd as a third Mali goal was scored deep into stoppage time by Keita and then, unbelievably, they got their equalizer mere seconds later off a Yatabare finish.
Just when it appeared Mali would lose their first opening match of an African Cup finals in their history, they bounced back to spoil the Angolan party and leave almost everyone in the stadium deflated and struggling to comprehend how a four goal cushion was squandered.
Rami Ayari, Goal.com