In the most exciting and heartwarming victory, the war torn country of Mali has beaten Afcon hosts South Africa to advance to semi-finals.
They tied the match 1-1, went scoreless in extra time. They won 3-1 in penalty shootouts, effectively ousting Bafana from the tournament.
Tokelo Rantie scored first for South Africa in the 31st minute and in the 58th minute, the former Barcelona player and Mali Team Captain, Seydou Keita netted the equalizer with a header to vault the match into extra time.
Midfielders Dean Furman and May Mahlangu had their shots saved by Diakite, and striker Lehlohonolo Majoro sent his shot wide for Mali to reach the semifinals a second straight time.
Mali is a country that has recently been plagued with civil unrest, destruction death and militancy.
In this devastation lies a squad. A squad that may hopefully bring hope and healing to a nation in much need of joy.
Captain Seydou Keita: ”The country is in the process of recapturing the north, and people are starting to lift their heads,” he said. “This qualification will also give a lot of joy to our country. Giving hope to the country has been priceless. There is a crisis in Mali and I did my best to give hope to those who are suffering. We have made an effort to help, but money doesn’t matter. You can’t imagine what it means to play for Mali at this time. I told my government they could reduce our bonuses. My priority is to play for my country.”
The team has agreed to much less play and instead be satisfied with passion. Their country has been overrun by extremists in the North and troops are being supported by French and American troops.
Ancient Malian city of Timbuktu, which is also a UN heritage site, was once a thriving city full of enlightenment and knowledge. The militant’s keeping that in mind ravaged and destroyed some of the precious ancient manuscripts and books mercilessly, in the most prominent library in the city. This not only created fear in the hearts of Malians but also instilled a sense of blow to the history and pride of the nation. It also generated sincere sadness around the world.
But for Keita and his squad, to pledge to play despite unrest and strife in the country is magnificently brave. It is a testament to their commitment to the beautiful game and loyalty to their homeland.
To win against the home team in a sport that is adored and loved by their country is a much deserved and incredible accomplishment.
There was cheering and excitement in the air as well as delight from the players. They have contributed immensely to the happiness in a place where there is uncertainty and dread.
The AFCON tournament is one of the most exciting tournaments in football. For the players to forge on and play with dedication and fortitude is providing healing and pride to a nation of supporters. It is also provide tremendous inspiration and hope to the youth of Mali.
One can only hope that may it lead to the beginning of rebuilding, recovery and peace.