Durban - Soumbeila Diakite starred for Mali in a penalty shootout as hosts South Africa’s Africa Cup of Nations dreams were shattered by a 3-1 defeat in the quarterfinals in Durban on Saturday night.
The Eagles goalkeeper kept out shots from Dean Furman and May Mahlangu, while Lehlohonolo Majoro shot wide after the match had to be settled on spot kicks following a 1-1 draw after extra time.
Only Siphiwe Tshabalala was successful with his penalty, with Cheick Diabate, Adama Tamboura and Mahamane Traore scoring for the visitors as the Moses Mabhida Stadium was stunned into silence.
Earlier, Tokelo Rantie fired the hosts in front with a close-range finish after 31 minutes, before Mali replied through their veteran captain Seydou Keita in the 58th minute. His free header sent the match into extra time before the drama of penalties.
It was harsh on Gordon Igesund’s men, who enjoyed a much more dominant game in front of a capacity 50,000 plus crowd at the iconic KwaZulu-Natal stadium.
Mali skipper Keita had the first real chance of the game when a free-kick from the back was knocked down into his path after seven minutes by Mamadou Samassa on the edge of the box, but he struck the ball wildly over.
The hosts finally responded in the 15th minute when Mahlangu headed wastefully wide after a fizzing Siboniso Gaxa cross from the right.
Midway through the half, Mahlangu was again at the heart of a South African attack as he threaded in a good pass to Rantie, whose effort from the right was closed down by stand-in Mali keeper Diakite.
Tamboura’s cross-shot attempt then almost beat goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune when it flew just over the crossbar as Mali made a rare venture forward.
But South Africa went in front when superb distribution by their goalkeeper allowed them to catch the visitors on the counter.
Khune gathered comfortably from a dangerous free-kick situation and then picked out Mahlungu in midfield, with the ball spread left to Thuso Phala, who picked Rantie six-yards out for a simple finish.
Just before the break, the goal-scorer had to be substituted due to injury, with Majoro on in his place -- Bafana Bafana holding the advantage at the interval.
The West Africans showed more enterprise after the restart, but battled to carve out many openings.
Coach Patrice Carteron threw some early caution to the wind when he introduced forward Traore for midfielder Mohamed Sissoko.
But it was at the other end that a goal was almost scored when Majoro was played in by Letsholonyane, only for the striker to delay his shot and be closed down by Diakite.
Keita then silenced the home crowd when he found himself unmarked in the area and headed in Samassa’s left-sided cross.
Samassa almost put Mali ahead moments later when he latched on to a poor back pass by Gaxa, but was denied by the alert Khune.
With 10 minutes remaining, Mahlangu managed a rare strike on goal, but Diakite comfortably held onto the powerful drive.
Coach Igesund threw Thulani Serero in for Phala moments before referee Alioum Neant sounded the full-time.
When the game resumed, Keita forced Khune to scramble away an awkward free-kick, before the ensuing break led to Mahlangu shooting low and straight into the arms of Diakite.
Apart from those two openings, there was little else in terms of chances and the game had to be settled on penalties.
After substitute Tshabalala scored, there was an air of expectancy, but Diakite had other ideas and when Majoro fired what proved to be the third penalty off target, South Africa was heartbroken.