By: Bubacarr Fallaboweh
Mali solidified their top spot in group G of the 2023 AFCON qualifiers with a 2-0 home win against the Gambia.
The Eagles were a delight to watch in the encounter as they broke down the Scorpions with a goal in each half in the 2-0 win at the Stade du 26 Mars Stadium on Friday, March 24.
After the initial exchanges, both teams studied each other’s play patterns, and the Eagles drew first blood through Kamory Kamaara.
He finished a neat build-up play involving three players as he slotted the ball past goalkeeper Baboucarr Gaye into the net.
Mali had the lion’s share of the possession as the Gambia failed to test goalkeeper Ismael Diawara.
Gaye, on the other hand, had a busy shift as he dealt well with Haidara’s free-kick and made a couple of other good saves.
The Eagles could double their lead through a kick outside the 18-yard. Instead, it was deflected to the relief of the Gambian bench.
Mali came close thrice before the break, with one being an Amadou Haidara cross which went in front of the post without any connection.
Koita had a one-on-one situation to increase the tally, but Gaye saved his shot.
Doumbia beat Noah Sonko at the near post, but his effort went wide as the pressure continued.
The first half ended with 72% -28% in ball possession in favor of Mali, as they also had 12 goal attempts compared to Gambia’s four.
Tom Saintfiet made some changes as he hoped to turn things around. Ebrima Colley was brought on to replace Saidy Janko to strengthen the team.
Mali continued from where they left off in the first half as they pinned the Scorpions into their half.
The Gambia kept Mali at bay, forcing the Eagles to devise a new game plan to shoot from a distance.
Haidara attempted three long-range strikes, but they all missed the target.
Mali tried to break the Gambia as they also channeled more of their attacking play to the wings.
With 27 minutes left on the clock, the Gambia entered the game as Malian keeper Diawara denied Musa Barrow with a great save after Assan Ceesay played through him.
Assan, too, came close to finding the leveler, but his effort was saved.
As the game entered injury time, Nene was brought down by Gaye in the 92 minutes, and Adama Traore made no mistake to send Gaye away through the resultant spot kick to make it 2-0 for Mali. The Gambia is now in 3rd position after Sudan beat Congo 2-1.
The Gambia will host Mali on Tuesday in Morocco in the return leg.