Cape Town -
Mali’s African Nations Championship campaign came to an abrupt end when they went down 2-1 to a fired-up Zimbabwe in the quarter-finals in Cape Town on Saturday night.
It was a deserved and convincing win for the Zimbabwean side, who at 101st place in the Fifa rankings, were 60 positions below their opponents on Saturday night.
Backed by a massive crowd of Zimbabweans at the Cape Town Stadium, who created an electric atmosphere, the Warriors made a rousing start to the game.
And they were to take the lead after just nine minutes when Simbarashe Sithole sprinted on to a long ball out of defence, shrugging off a weak challenge from Souleymane Konate before steering the ball past Soumaila Diakite.
While the contest was end-to-end as both sides attacked with pace and purpose, it was Zimbabwe who were to have the next chance as Peter Moyo picked up the ball in the middle of the park before unleashing a swerving 30-yard shot which looked destined for the top corner until Diakite made a brilliant save.
Seven minutes before the break and Diakite again had to be on top of his game as he beat away a thunderbolt of a left-footed free-kick from Ali Sidike, the ball swerving wildly through the air from 35 yards out.
The west African side then wasted a glorious chance to get back into the game in first half injury time when, with only keeper George Chigove to beat, Lassana Diara smashed his parting shot over the cross-bar when he should rather have gone for placement.
With the match tight, Zimbabwe needed a second goal, and Kudakwashe Mahachi was to comply, picking up the ball outside before jinxing his diminutive frame past four giant Mali defenders and then finishing with a composed low effort across the goalkeeper in the 55th minute.
Midway though the stanza and there were a couple of chances for the Eagles, but Abdoulaye Sissoko fired an angled shot wide of goal while Cheick Doumbia was off target with a header.
Mali pushed and probed, but with little reward, instead the southern Africans nearly got a spectacular third goal when Masimba Mambare’s chip from out wide forced Diakite into a brilliant reflex save.
The Eagles were finally able to get on the score-sheet in the final minute of regulation time when Hamidou Sinayoki headed home from close range after an inviting cross by Sissoki - Sapa