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Sunday, 21 January 2024 08:50

Tunisia draw with Mali to pick up first Cup of Nations point.

By Ben Miller.

Hamza Rafia's first-half strike gave 2004 champions Tunisia their first point at the 2023 Africa Cup of Nations courtesy of a draw against Mali.

Midfielder Rafia arrived first to send Ali Abdi's cross squirming in via goalkeeper Djigui Diarra's body.

Mali had gone ahead through Lassine Sinayoko's drilled opener and are on the brink of reaching the last 16.

Kamory Doumbia almost restored the Eagles' lead six minutes after the break, stabbing a shot narrowly wide.

Eric Chelle's side will need a maximum of a draw to advance in their final group-stage game against Namibia on Wednesday (17:00 GMT), although the complexion of Group E will change when the Brave Warriors and Bafana Bafana face each other in their second matches on Sunday (20:00 GMT).

The nations who had been pre-Afcon favourites to lead the group both scored with their only attempts on target on a night when wayward shooting was a frequent feature of the action.

Auxerre forward Sinayoko scored his second goal of the finals in emphatic style, thumping a crisp diagonal drive in off the far post.

The lead lasted 10 minutes before Abdi showed nimble feet to cut a low pass from inside the box back into Rafia's path for the equaliser.

Sinayoko could have gone level with the top scorers at Afcon so far - Algeria's Baghdad Bounedjah and Equatorial Guinea's Emilio Nsue - but for a finish lofted high over the crossbar when he met Hamari Traore's inviting delivery in front of goal.

Tunisia goalkeeper Bechir Ben Said had already been relieved to see Doumbia's effort beat his dive but roll behind.

Substitute Yves Bissouma, on as an 83rd-minute substitute, threatened during the closing stages, firing wide from the edge of the box as Mali missed out on a third win in four Afcon meetings with Tunisia, two of which have now been draws.

Jalel Kadri's players, who suffered a shock defeat to Namibia in their opening game and play South Africa in their deciding game, are three points behind Mali in third place.

Meanwhile Gelson Dala scored twice as Angola beat Mauritania 3-2 to close in on the last 16 of the Africa Cup of Nations.