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U-23 AFCON: Mali overcome shaky start to defeat Gabon

An early penalty kick concession left Mali behind inside five minutes but Les Aigles stormed back to defeat Gabon by a 3-1 score in their Group B opener at the 2023 U-23 Africa Cup of Nations. Mamadou Sangaré answered Emmanuel Essogo’s 3rd minute penalty kick with a spot kick of his own and Cheickna Doumbia put Mali up for good towards the end of the first half. The group leaders will face fellow Group B favorites Egypt on Wednesday while Gabon prepare for a battle with Niger.

It was an ominous beginning for the Malians who were caught off guard by a long ball from the Gabonese team in the opening minute. Gabon left winger Moussango Obounet collected the ball on the left wing and his cross caused all sorts of issues for the Malian defense before goalkeeper Lassine Diarra tripped Roy Mbongui for a foul in the penalty area. Diarra got a hand to Essogo’s spot kick but it was not enough to keep the ball out of the goal.

The response from the Malians was impressive as the team mostly composed of players based abroad fought back. Towards the twenty minute mark, Essogo wrestled down Mali defender Ibrahima Cissé on an aerial duel for the referee to award another penalty kick following a Video Assistant Referee review. François Bekale saved the first effort from Sangaré but VAR determined the goalkeeper left his line early and Bekale was powerless to save a confident shot into the top corner on the second attempt.

The quality was clear to see on the second goal from Mali in the 40th minute when a devastating counter attack resulted in a brilliant run down the left wing from Boubacar Traoré before the Wolverhampton Wanderers player set up Doumbia’s finish with a cross from the outside of his boot.

Adversity only increased for Gabon when Bekale was sent off for blocking a shot with his hand outside of the penalty area to deny a clear opportunity. A second half that featured much less drama and action ended with Coli Saco setting up fellow substitute Alhassane Tamboura to fire past Gabon substitute keeper Gesril Andome.

Highlights from the match are below.

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