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Saturday, 03 February 2024 22:45

AFCON hosts Ivory Coast pull off another stunning comeback to book semi-final spot.

By Michael Beardmore.

Host nation Ivory Coast produced another amazing Africa Cup of Nations escape act as Oumar Diakite's 122nd-minute winner sent the 10-man Elephants into the semi-finals at heartbroken Mali's expense.

The hosts played the majority of the game at a numerical disadvantage after Odilon Kossounou's dismissal for two first-half fouls on Lassine Sinayoko and they fell behind to Nene Dorgeles' classy curler.

But the Elephants equalised right on 90 minutes through Simon Adringa's opportunistic finish - and won it with virtually the last kick of extra time when Diakite diverted home Seko Fofana's shot.

Diakite left the field with mixed emotions, however, as a second yellow card received for removing his shirt in celebration means he will be banned for Wednesday's semi-final against DR Congo (20:00 GMT).

The final whistle yielded unsavoury scenes as several Mali players surrounded referee Mohamed Adel, remonstrating with the official, and Hamari Traore was shown a red card for taking his protests too far.

It was difficult to see what the Eagles were complaining about, as there appeared little wrong with the goal that sparked wild scenes of celebration at the orange-bathed Stade de la Paix.

A free-kick broke to Fofana on the edge of the area and, as his shot flew through a crowded goalmouth, Diakite, with his back to goal, instinctively stuck out a foot to flick the ball past Mali goalkeeper Djigui Diarra.

The quick thinking by the forward for French club Reims keeps the hosts' hopes of a third Afcon title alive after a barely-believable route through the competition that has seen them on the brink of elimination on several occasions.

Elephants find yet another escape route

Having come through the group stage by the skin of their teeth despite two defeats - and sacked manager Jean-Louis Gasset mid-tournament in the process - the knockout stages have been just as hair-raising for the hosts.

They came from behind, with another late goal, to force extra time and penalties to beat defending champions Senegal in the last 16 but even that drama was completely eclipsed by Saturday's events in Bouake.

Fortune had again appeared to be on their side when Kossounou blocked Sikou Niakate's shot with an outstretched hand in the box but escaped punishment because the Mali man was offside in the build-up.

It took several minutes to clear up the confusion but when play restarted, Kossounou allowed Sinayoko to get the wrong side of him and bundled him over - only for Yahia Fofana to brilliantly save Adama Noss Traore's spot-kick.

The hosts' luck seemed to have finally run out when centre-back Kossounou, booked for the penalty incident, received a second yellow card for tripping the same player just before half-time.

However, they defended diligently, restricting Mali to efforts from distance, one of which paid off with just under 20 minutes to go as Dorgeles cut in from the left to find the top corner.

Unbowed, the Elephants responded admirably, Diakite and Wilfried Singo both going close with headers before a Fofana shot ricocheted perfectly for Brighton forward Adingra to stab Ivory Coast level from eight yards.

They continued to fashion the better chances in extra time, with Sebastien Haller heading against the bar before, with time almost up and another shootout looming, Diakite dramatically settled matters.