Substitute Max Gradel’s late equaliser earned a disjointed Ivory Coast side a 1-1 draw against Mali in the African Cup of Nations on Saturday as the Elephants kept alive their hopes of reaching the quarter-finals.
It looked as if Bakary Sako’s superb seventh-minute strike, a contender for goal of the tournament so far, would give Mali a famous first win against their west African neighbours at the continental finals.
But Gradel, who was introduced from the bench in the first half, finished an excellent move with four minutes left to leave Group D wide open.
Both sides had already drawn 1-1 in their first matches, and must now wait to see how Cameroon do against Guinea in the second game of a double-header in Malabo on Saturday evening.
When Diomande was robbed of possession in midfield, the ball came out to Sambou Yatabare on the Mali right and his hanging cross towards the back post was met sweetly on the half-volley by the unmarked Sako, whose strike gave Sylvain Gbohouo in goal no chance.
Just as had happened in their opening game, the Ivorians’ opponents had scored from their first chance, and Renard’s side were again left to chase a game.
An unhappy Renard wasted no time in changing his approach, with Diomande being hooked off six minutes before the interval and his Saint-Etienne colleague Gradel coming on to join Doumbia and Bony up front.
Still the Ivorians were unable to really trouble the Mali defence, even after goalkeeper Diakite was stretchered off and replaced for the final 18 minutes by Germain Berthe.
The substitute had nothing to do until he had to pick the ball out of his net four minutes from the end.
Gradel slotted home low after Serge Aurier latched on to a defence-splitting Salomon Kalou pass and cut the ball back for the little winger.
Know more about Sport360 Application