LIMBE, Cameroon, Jan 16 – Musa Barrow converted a 90th-minute penalty for Gambia to snatch a 1-1 draw against Mali with the matchday 2 result set to take both teams through to the second round of the Africa Cup of Nations.
Mali went ahead after 79 minutes in Limbe when Ibrahima Kone scored from another penalty, both of which were awarded after the Moroccan referee watched replays on a VAR monitor.
The draw keeps Gambia and Mali level at the top of Group F with four points each. Pointless sides Tunisia and Mauritania meet later on Sunday and a win for either country will bring them into contention.
Group winners and runners-up after three matchdays qualify for the round of 16 along with the best four third-placed sides.
“I am thrilled with our results so far. We have beaten Mauritania and drawn with Mali, a team 97 places above us in the world rankings,” said Belgium-born Gambia coach Tom Saintfiet.
“This Gambian team is packed with talented players and one of them, Musa Barrow, showed great calmness to score from the penalty.”
Debutants Gambia are the lowest ranked of the 24 teams in Cameroon and needed a penalty shootout victory over Djibouti to book a place in the group phase of qualifying.
Brighton midfielder Yves Bissouma, who came off the bench in a matchday 1 win over Tunisia, was promoted to the starting line-up by Mali coach Mohamed Magassouba.
The other Premier League player in the Mali team, Southampton winger Moussa Djenepo, retained his place as the west African nation sought a ninth win in 19 matches in all competitions against Gambia.
– Slow pace –
In 32 degrees Celsius (90 Fahrenheit) early afternoon heat and 75 percent humidity at the 20,000-seat Stade Omnisport it was no surprise that the match began at a slow pace.
Mali were more impressive in the early exchanges with Bissouma firing a free-kick wide and Djenepo having a header saved by Modou Jobe, who plays in the South African second division.
After being on the back foot for 20 minutes, Gambia were awarded a 35-metre free-kick and Musa Barrow unleashed a thunderbolt that rattled the crossbar.
After two cooling breaks within eight minutes to enable the players to drink water, the woodwork came to the rescue of Mali again.
This time Ablie Jallow was the unlucky Gambian as his angled shot rebounded off a post to the relief of Mali goalkeeper Ibrahim Mounkoro.
Djenepo was harshly yellow-carded by the Moroccan referee as half-time approached, ruling him out of the final group match against Mauritania on Thursday as he was also cautioned against Tunisia.
After a slow start to the second half, the match burst into life with Mali having three scoring opportunities in quick succession and Gambia one.
Bissouma fired just over, Adama ‘Malouda’ Traore narrowly lost a chase for the ball with Jobe, who then blocked with his chest a close-range attempt by Traore.
A Gambian counterattack threatened to break the deadlock until they were dispossessed on the edge of the Mali box.
Then came the two penalties with Kone and Barrow holding their nerve to send the goalkeepers the wrong way.