Mali crushed the hosts’ dreams and Ghana ended debutants Cape Verde’s remarkable adventure in the first batch of Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals on Saturday.
South Africa were trying to emulate the class of ’96 by lifting the continental showpiece on home turf, but it was not to be as Mali booked their place in the semi-finals.
At a packed stadium in Durban the two sides were inseparable at 1-1 at the end of extra-time after Tokelo Rantie put Bafana Bafana ahead on 31 minutes and Seydou Keita leveled with 58 minutes gone.
That set up a nerve-jangling penalty shootout climax, with Mali prevailing 3-1.
Cheick Tidiane Diabate, Adama Tamboura and Mahamane Traore converted their efforts for the Malian Eagles, while Soumbeyla Diakite saved from Dean Furman and May Mahlangu, while Lehlohonolo Majoro blazed wide.
The success was a timely morale boost for Malians, whose troops have been been on the offensive against Islamist extremists in the north of the country, backed by forces from France and other African states.
“This win signifies a great deal,” Mali captain Keita said. “You see the Mali flag, which is not only flying in the north and the south of Mali, but also outside Mali. Only football can manage this. Mali has her head held high today and we are proud to be Malian. The whole of Mali must be proud, like us.”
South Africa coach Gordon Igesund was close to tears during the post-match press conference.
“My boys lost with dignity, pride and passion,” Igesund said. “There is only so much any coach can ask from his team and my boys gave everything they had. It is very difficult to accept defeat when you play so well.”
Mali were playing the role of party poopers for the second time in a year after knocking out last year’s co-hosts Gabon — also on penalties after a 1-1 draw — at the same stage of the tournament.
Their reward is a semi-final in Durban with the winner of the quarter-final between Ivory Coast and Nigeria, while Ghana face either Burkina Faso or Togo in Nelspruit.
Both semi-finals are scheduled for Wednesday.
Earlier, down the coast in Port Elizabeth, Ghana substitute Mubarak Wakaso put the Black Stars into a 54th-minute lead when he fired home a penalty after skipper Asamoah Gyan was fouled inside the box by Carlitos.
Wakaso doubled Ghana’s advantage in stoppage-time when he ran half the length of the pitch to slot home after Cape Verde committed every player, including goalkeeper Vozinha, up-field for a corner.
“Our first half was OK, but the second half was not one of our best games,” Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah said. “Cape Verde dominated in the second half, but the important thing is that we won and are through to the semi-finals. Cape Verde proved me right, that they would be tough.”
Blue Sharks coach Luis Antunes said: “Today, we all watched a beautiful game, but unfortunately the best team is going home and the tournament will lose its shine.”
“This was our fourth game and in our first three games there were no questions — now there are questions. You should draw your own conclusions,” he said. “They [the organizers] would want to see Ghana move into the semi-finals or do you want 200 spectators to watch Cape Verde against Togo in the semi-finals?”
Antunes was, presumably, referring to some debatable decisions by the Mauritian referee, although big-screen replays seemed to confirm that the spot-kick call was correct.