Hapless Mali were denied a famous win over Ivory Coast when they conceded a late equalizer for the second game in a row and were held to a 1-1 draw in the Africa Cup of Nations Group D game on Saturday.
Mali had not scored in their previous six meetings against their more illustrious neighbors, but Bakary Sako quickly put that right with a brilliant volley after seven minutes.
The Eagles, who conceded an 83rd minute equalizer in a 1-1 draw with Cameroon in their opening game, resisted 80 minutes of Ivorian domination until half-time substitute Max Gradel leveled with three minutes left.
The match began dramatically when Ismael Diaomonde lost possession in midfield and Mali, semi-finalists in the last two tournaments, broke on the counterattack.
The ball was swept out to Sambou Yatabare on the right and Sako met his curled cross at an awkward height to lash the ball emphatically into the bottom corner.
Furious Ivory Coast coach Herve Renard, who led Zambia to the title in 2012, kicked water bottles on the touchline and angrily reprimanded his players as they struggled to create chances against dogged opponents.
Ivory Coast had a penalty appeal turned down when Wilfried Bony was clumsily knocked over by Molla Wague, and Kolo Toure’s header was tipped onto the bar by Mali goalkeeper Soumaila Diakite before half-time.
Diakite went off injured and was replaced by Germain Berthe midway through the second half, although Mali still looked capable of holding on.
In a rare attack, Mali nearly sealed the points when Sylvain Gbohouo dropped a cross and Wilfried Kanon hacked the ball off the line.
However, Ivory Coast finally broke them down when Serge Aurier’s pass was deflected into Gradel’s path and he scored with a low shot, which went under Berthe’s outstretched arm.
In the other Group D game, Ibrahima Traore grabbed a stunning equalizer as Guinea held Cameroon 1-1, continuing a remarkable sequence of draws.
All four matches in the group have now ended 1-1, leaving Cameroon, Mali, Ivory Coast and Guinea all with two points, two goals for and two against.
Cameroon face Ivory Coast and Guinea meet Mali in the final group games on Wednesday.
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