The quarterfinal line-up at the Africa Cup of Nations was completed on Wednesday night when Equatorial Guinea defeated Mali 6-5 on penalties after a goalless stalemate at the Limbe Stadium.
The Eagles bossed play for the majority of the match, but were ousted on penalties by a gritty Nzalang Nacional, who advanced to face heavyweights Senegal at the Japoma Stadium on Sunday.
Mali gave first notice of their attacking threat when striker Ibrahima Kone had a sharp turn and shot from just inside the penalty area in the seventh minute, though his effort flashed wide of goalkeeper Jesus Owono’s right-hand post.
Just past the half-hour mark the Eagles’ Amadou Haidara controlled a free kick delivery into the box from Adama Malouda Traore and got a shot away, but his effort lacked the power to beat Owono.
Equatorial Guinea struggled to create chances at the other end, with Iban Salvador and Josete Miranda unable to replicate the penetration they enjoyed through the group stage, leaving striker Dorian Hanza isolated and frustrated.
On 40 minutes Mali were awarded a debatable penalty for Moussa Doumbia seemingly being tripped up by Basilio Ndong and Miranda, but Gambian referee Bakary Gassama was asked to review his call by VAR and ultimately opted to reverse the decision.
The first 45 minutes came to a close with the teams still locked at 0-0, though Mali were the dominant force and would have felt frustrated at not seizing control of the game.
The Eagles looked to be more proactive in the early minutes after the restart, with Mohamed Camara and Moussa Doumbia both having efforts on goal, though neither troubled Owono.
The 58th minute brought a glaring chance for Mali, with Yves Bissouma doing great work to set up Camara with a sight of a virtually unguarded goal, but he ballooned his shot over the crossbar.
The Eagles made a double change by sending on Adama Noss Traore and Moussa Dejenpo with 20 minutes to play in regulation time, and the latter almost made an immediate impact with a shot which deflected off a defender and skipped narrowly wide of the target.
Yet there was to be no breakthrough at either end before the end of the 90 minutes, sending the game to an extra half hour.
Five minute into the additional 30, Mali goalkeeper Ibrahim Mounkoro finally had his first notable save to make, successfully deflecting an awkward long-range effort from Ndong which took a nasty bounce just a few feet in front of the shot-stopper.
That proved the only major highlight of extra time: Mali continued to enjoy most of the attacking momentum, but to no avail, leaving the match to be decided by spot kicks.
The shootout started poorly for Nzalang Nacional when star man Emilio Nsue missed the opening kick, but they worked their way back into contention and Owono was the hero in the end when he kept out Falaye Sacko’s effort in the eighth round of penalties to see his side triumph 6-5.
Equatorial Guinea 0
After extra time – Equatorial Guinea won 6-5 on penalties
Mali: Mounkoro, H. Traore, Sacko, Kouyate, M. Haidara, A. Haidara (Dieng 108’), Camara, Bissouma (A.N. Traore 71’), A.M. Traore (Djenepo 70’), Doumbia, Kone (Toure 84’)
Equatorial Guinea: Owono, Akapo, Obiang, Coco, Ndong, Salvador, Ganet, Machin (Belima 82’), Miranda (Buyla 63’), Bikoro (Eneme 82’), Hanza (Nsue 63’)