South Africa and Mali played to a 1-1 draw in their 2014 African Nations Championship Group A clash at the Cape Town Stadium on Wednesday.
The result suits the Eagles more than Bafana Bafana, who play Nigeria in their final match and will probably need to avoid a loss in order to ensure a place in the quarterfinals. Mali face Mozambique in their last group game and will be confident of victory and advancement to the last eight.
The first half revolved around two penalty incidents at either end of the field. First, just nine minutes in, South African captain Itumeleng Khune clearly tripped Abdoulaye Sissoko on the right side of the 18-yard box. However, Cameroonian referee Mal Souley Mohamadou only awarded the Eagles a corner kick, much to the dismay of their players.
The corner kick almost saw Mali take the lead, as the cross found Lassana Diarra unmarked but his sweetly-hit shot flashed just wide of the near post.
In the 22nd minute, Bafana Bafana winger Lindokuhle Mbatha ghosted past a couple of defenders before tumbling in the box. This time the referee pointed to the spot, angering the West Africans for a second time.
Television replays showed that Mbatha certainly was tripped up by Souleymane Konate, but the contact was just outside the 18-yard area before the winger’s momentum carried him over the line. Bafana should have had nothing more than a free kick on the edge of the box.
Bernard Parker coolly converted the spot kick to make it 1-0 25 minutes in, his third goal of the tournament to shoot back to the top of the scoring charts.
The goal saw Bafana’s confidence rise and they began to dominate the match. On 37 minutes Mbatha was presented with a clear scoring chance after Siphiwe Tshabalala’s cross found him unmarked, but his hesitant effort was blocked by Mahamadou Traore.
However, Mali nearly found an equaliser after Hlompho Kekana dithered in the box and allowed Sissoko to get a shot away – luckily for the hosts the attacker’s effort rebounded off the upright.
The second half saw far fewer scoring opportunities, though the Eagles took full advantage of their best chance. On 54 minutes a route-one ball from the goalkeeper was flicked on for Lassana Diarra, who teed up Ibourahima Sidibe to crash home a volley for 1-1.
It was one of the few opportunities Mali created against an otherwise disciplined and alert Bafana defence, who will be rueing the way they went to sleep at a crucial point in the match.
The result leaves both teams on four points in Group A, with South Africa ahead on goal difference.