2021 AFCON: Equatorial Guinea stun Mali to reach quarter-finals
Goalkeeper Jesus Owono was Equatorial Guinea’s hero as they shocked Mali in a penalty shoot-out to reach the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations.
Owono, 20, saved twice in the shootout to help them go through 6-5 on spot-kicks after a 0-0 draw.
Initially, the referee indicated the decisive save from Falaye Sacko’s effort needed to be retaken, but a VAR check showed Owono’s foot was still on the line.
Equatorial Guinea play Senegal next.
In open play Mali, 61 places higher in the global rankings than their opponents, had the better chances but were frustrated by another excellent Equatorial Guinea performance.
A high tempo but untidy first half saw Mali’s Amadou Haidara have the best chance when just after the half hour mark the RB Leipzig star – who has been linked with a move to the Premier League – was only able to scuff a weak shot from close range.
With 5 minutes to go to the break, the Eagles were awarded a penalty when Mali’s Moussa Doumbia clashed with Equatorial Guinea’s Josete Miranda.
But referee Bakary Gassama reversed his decision when he viewed the incident on the screen next to the pitch.
Mali improved further in the second period and the best chance of the game fell to Salzburg’s Mohamed Camara in the 56th minute.
After great work from Brighton star Yves Bissouma on the right, Camara was screaming for the ball – and received it in prime position.
But he could only fire over the bar from close to the penalty spot.
Substitute Moussa Djenepo also came close to putting the Eagles in front, with 20 minutes to go, but his strong shot was deflected just wide.
Equatorial Guinea, who inflicted a first defeat in 36 games on former Champions Algeria in the group stage, rarely threated at the other end.
But former Middlesbrough and Birmingham Emilio Nsue came on as a sub for them with an hour to go and played an increasingly influential role.
He curled a shot over the bar in the last moments of normal time, and in extra-time was a constant menace to the Mali defence.
Mali keeper Ibrahim Mounkouro was forced into a rare save after five minutes of the first extra period when Basilio Ndong struck from distance.
But one shot on target from each team in 120 minutes told the story, and it came to penalties to decide who would go through to face Sadio Mane and co in Douala on Sunday.
Nsue took the first of the series and blazed it over the bar, but Mali also missed, and both keepers made saves in the sequence to take it to sudden death.
Mali’s Falaye Sacko needed to score to keep his team in it, but Owono dived low to make a fine stop.
Celebrations were held up for a few moments as the VAR check took place, but then Equatorial Guinea, who reached the semi-finals back in 2015 when they hosted the tournament, had their place in the last eight confirmed.
It was a bitter disappointment to Mali, who had been the better team throughout – but they failed to make that tell, and paid the price.