A controversial Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) Group F clash at the Limbe Stadium on Wednesday saw 10-man Mali emerge 1-0 victors against Tunisia, courtesy of Ibrahima Kone’s second-half penalty.
The referee was sent to the VAR screen on three occasions during the second half after he awarded two spot-kicks and sent off El Bilal Toure in a dramatic end to proceedings.
Kone broke the deadlock three minutes into the second half and Wahbi Khazri failed to convert his penalty at the other end to ensure Mohamed Magassouba’s side made a winning start to their Afcon campaign.
There were no clear-cut chances in the first half as the two teams looked to get to grips with the sweltering conditions in Limbe.
The Eagles controlled proceedings and created some early pressure, winning three corners inside the opening 10 minutes.
Adama Malouda Traore made contact with one of those set-pieces from the left in the second minute, but directed his header well over the crossbar.
Boubakar Kouyate managed to get on the end of another corner from the left in the 13th minute, although he too headed over and collided with Montassar Talbi in the process.
Massadio Haidara found himself in space on the left in the 40th minute and tried his luck from distance, only to see the ball swerve into the side-netting with Bechir Ben Saed at full stretch.
The Eagles of Carthage struggled to impose themselves on the game in the opening 45 minutes and hardly advanced into the final third. Their task was made that much harder when Mali were awarded a penalty one minute after the restart.
Kouyate’s shot struck Ellyes Skhiri on the arm as the Koln midfielder turned his back on the ball and the ref pointed to the spot. Kone made no mistake from 12 yards out as he sent Ben Said the wrong way to open the scoring.
Khazri looked to catch Ibrahim Mounkoro off his line with an ambitious effort from just inside the Malian half that sailed over the target on 51 minutes.
The Saint-Etienne striker eventually tested Mounkoro with Tunisia’s first attempt on goal four minutes later, with his free-kick from just outside the area on the left pushed away off his line by the Mali keeper.
Skhiri had a chance to make amends for his mistake moments later when a cross from the left was headed back into the danger area, but his glancing header at the back post went wide.
Dylan Bronn then forced Mounkoro to push his speculative long-range strike away from danger on 65 minutes as Mondher Kebaier’s troops began to get a foothold in the contest.
There was high drama in the closing 20 minutes when Moussa Djenepo handled Khazri’s shot inside the box. VAR requested that the referee have a look at the incident and he subsequently awarded the spot-kick.
However, Khazri failed to beat Mounkoro, who guessed the right way and made a fine save to preserve his team’s lead.
The Zambian official caused confusion when he seemed to blow his whistle for fulltime five minutes early before reversing the decision. Two minutes later he showed substitute Toure a straight red card for a studs-up challenge on Bronn.
The Tunisian technical bench were left fuming when the man in the middle again sounded the final whistle before the 90 minutes were up, much to the delight of the Eagles.