Cape Town - Bafana Bafana let their half-time lead slip, allowing Mali to score a second half equaliser as the teams drew their African Nations Championship group A clash 1-1 at the Cape Town Stadium on Wednesday evening.
Ibourahima Sidibe brought the teams level after the interval, after Bernard Parker had sent SA ahead through his 25th minute spot-kick.
A spirited Mali outfit fought back to grab the equaliser 10 minutes after half-time, as the teams shared the points, keeping Bafana top of group with four points.
“It was a very difficult game, both teams were evenly matched out there,” Bafana coach Gordon Igesund said after the game.
“It would have been nice to score the second or maybe a third goal. They caught us on the counter-attack and there are some skilful players in their side.
“At the end of the day, the points were shared and (based) on the play, it was probably a fair result. We could have had a bit more luck in front of goal, but it wasn't to be.”
The opening 10 minutes passed without incident, save for a penalty shout from Mali that was turned down by referee Souley Mohamadou.
Shortly after, however, Lassana Diarra flashed his effort narrowly wide of Itumeleng Khune's upright, before Siphiwe Tshabalala's delicate effort went wide of the target, grazing the crossbar on the way.
The hosts found their rhythm and soon were paying regular visits into the opposition half, as Tshabalala, Bernard Parker and Hlompho Kekana came close.
The decisive moment came on 23 minutes, when Lindokuhle Mbatha - who made his international debut for Bafana against Mozambique four days prior - made a darting run into the area and was brought down on the edge, prompting Mohamadou to point to the spot.
Mohamadou waived away furious protests from the Malians, who felt Mbatha had been fouled outside of the box.
Nevertheless, Parker scored his second penalty in as many games to hand the South Africans the lead.
The home side were fortunate not to concede shortly before the interval, after the defence failed to deal with a loose ball inside the area, which led to Abdoulaye Sissoko thumping the upright with his driven effort from close-range.
Making his first appearance of the tournament, Edward Manqele forced a solid save from Mali goalkeeper Soumaila Diakite, who punched clear, as Bafana saw out the half unscathed.
After the break, South Africa upped the ante and dominated the early exchanges, but Mali soaked up the pressure and soon drew level, as Sidibe thundered home the equaliser.
Diarra got the final pass to the goal-scorer, after the visitors won the arial battle and sent Diarra through on goal, but a hefty touch steered the ball into Sidibe's path, and the midfielder made no mistake in hitting his effort first time, sailing into the back of the net.
Igesund felt newly-capped Mbatha had a solid first start for the national team, after the nuggety midfielder made a nuisance of himself in Mali's half, constantly getting beyond his marker and causing havoc in the opposition half.
“Lindo played very well today. He did exactly what I wanted him to do. We made the changes because we had a plan and I think it worked very well for us today.
“He's the kind of player who runs at people and goes past players on a regular basis. He must have been very close to being Man-of-the-match, he was outstanding.” - Sapa