Mali kicked off their 2020 African Nations Championship (CHAN) campaign with a hard-fought 1-0 win over a tough Burkina Faso side in Cameroon on Saturday.
The Eagles won the West African clash in Group A thanks to an amazing 70th minute header by enterprising left-back Siaka Bagayoko at the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium in Yaounde.
The defender, who plays for local giants Djoliba but previously featured for CS Sfaxien in Tunisia, settled the tie via an extraordinary long-range header after the Stallions failed to clear a corner-kick.
The victory takes Mali equal on three points with hosts Cameroon who beat Zimbabwe by a similar margin in the opening match of the tournament earlier in the day.
After a well-balanced contest in the first-half with several missed chances, it was Mali who made sure they pinned their opponents to get the goal and defend with a lot of caution.
Burkina Faso’s Soumaila Quattara, Illias Tiendrebeogo and Clement Pitroipa all had their attempts blocked, while Demba Diallo missed the target for Mali in what looked an easy chance to finish.
The deadlock was broken when Issaka Samake’s corner-kick was headed from behind the penalty box by Bagayoko, leaving Burkina Faso’s goalkeeper Babayoure Aboubacar Sawadogo stuck to the ground.
The Stallions team tried to push forward but failed to get the chances to even trouble the Malian defence.
With a minute remaining, Mali’s goalkeeper Cheik Abdoul Cadri blocked Claver Kiendrébéogo’s well-taken free-kick to protect his side’s lead.
The next matches will prove decisive in the group as Saturday’s winners will meet on Wednesday, while Zimbabwe will take on Burkina Faso.
The top two sides from the group will progress to the knockout stage of the competition.
The competition was initially set to be held in April 2020 but was postponed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
It is Africa’s major football event since the outbreak of the deadly disease.
Speaking after the game, Mali’s coach Nouhoum Diane said the game was not an easy ride for his team.
”I think the game was not easy, especially on the technical side. This is the first game for both teams who were under pressure to win.
“In the first half, our opponents created problems for us and it was only in the second half that we corrected ourselves and created chances.
“Against Cameroon, we hope to see a good match between two teams playing good football.”
On his part, Seydou Zerbo who is the coach of Burkina Faso said they have learnt lessons and were hopeful of correcting them before their next game.
“The editions follow one another but are not alike. It’s true that we lost our first game, but the tournament is still long.
“Now it’s up to us to correct our mistakes in order to have good matches in the future and achieve our goal of qualifying to the second round.
“Now we have to think about the game against Zimbabwe which is very important to us. After that, we will focus on the last match against hosts Cameroon,” he said.