Skhiri handball penalties prove the difference in Tunisia’s controversial loss to Mali

Africa: Africa Cup of Nations

Tunisiax W. Khazri (Pen. 77)

Stade Omnisport de Limbe Full time0-1

Mali I. Koné (Pen. 48), E. Toure (87)

By Peter Vice

Three Bundesligists played from the start at a highly anticipated meeting in Limbe on day four of the Africa Cup of Nations 2021.

Diadie Samassekou (Hoffenheim) and Amadou Haidara (Leipzig) actually started together in a double-six setup in midfield for Les Aigles from Mali.

In a match that sparked some controversy, the Malian Eagles and its two Bundesliga midfielders defeated Ellyes Skhiri (Cologne) and Tunisia 1-0.

Ellyes Skhiri.
Ellyes Skhiri. Photo: GEPA Pictures / Sven Sonntag

German football enthusiasts were given the opportunity to watch Amadou Haidara and Diadie Samassekou play in a midfield partnership on Wednesday afternoon as the two top players shared the six spots for Mohamed Magassouba’s Malian Eagles. As if this was not a treat enough, the tandem struck out against a Tunisian 3-4-3 with one of the Bundesliga’s best midfielders, Ellyes Skhiri from 1. FC Köln. Skhiri was recently honored by his FA as “Tunisian Footballer of the Year”.

As has been the case with many opening matches in the group stage, Sunday’s Group F showdown began in a pretty cakey way. Almost all teams in the tournament still find their level and learn how to best cooperate with each other. One could certainly give the Malians the first 45, but most of their chances are played on set pieces. Based on the level of performance, it could be stated that the team has not trained together for a long time. The Tunisian “Eagles of Carthage” were able to deliver some optically appealing build-up play, yet did not get a single shot on goal in the first half.

Just seconds after the restart, Zambian referee Janny Sikazwe ruled that Skhiri had handled a ball in the Malian field. Ibrahima Koné from the Norwegian club Sarpsborg 08 FF moved up to convert the spot kick two minutes later. The opening goal of the match opened the match significantly. The Carthaginians certainly woke up and pressed hard for the equalizer. As. Etienne striker Wahbi Khazri Malian goalkeeper Ibrahim Bosso Mounkoro into a brilliant save with a nicely taken free kick in the 56th.

Seconds later, Skhiri had his chance to free himself from the ensuing corner. The longtime Domstädter unfortunately headed just past the post. The Carthaginians kept up the pressure and were even awarded their own handball penalty in the 77th. Keeper Mounkoro guessed right and stopped a rather bad shot from captain Khazri to keep the goal line. Unfortunately, the fight fell into chaos about five minutes after time.

The match’s official Sikazwe – apparently wearing a watch incorrectly set – whistled twice too early in full time. The referee first admitted his mistake and let the game continue with a dropball. Shortly after he had sent the Malian substitute El Bilal Touré off on red in the 87th, he inexplicably avoided overtime as he whistled to finish in the 90th minute. The Tunisian players were understandably furious, but their protests did not change anything.

The midfield tandem between Samassekou and Haidara held up reasonably well until the latter was ruled out in the 81st. However, the two players did not rotate much and only got about 40 touches apiece. Haidara remained the more active player, trying to keep the attack going with more right-handers. Samassekou focused on winning balls and mostly looked average in the ground duels.

Skhiri seemed a bit uneasy at times, sharing a midfield axis with several partners. He looked pretty confident when chasing loose balls and competing in the 50s-50s. His second half offensive momentum was impressive. In many ways, the man who handled the ball in the field acted as the main cardholder on the court. Redemption was simply not achievable for the 26-year-old on this day.

22 said B. Ben
6 D. Bronn
3 M. Talbi
2 B. Ifa ↪81
21 H. Mathlouthi
28 A. Laïdouni ↪67
17 E. Skhiri
12 A. Maâloul
14 H. Mejbri ↪46
10 W. Khazri (C)x
23 N. Sliti ↪79
1 F. Ben Mustapha
16 A. Dahmen
9 Y. Touzghar ↩79
11 S. Jaziri ↩81
4 O. Rekik
5 O. Haddadi
13 A. Abdi
8 S. Khaoui ↩46
15 M. Ben Romdhane
18 G. Chalali
19 H. Rafia
25 A. Slimane ↩67
1 I. Mounkoro
2 H. Traoré (C)
17 F. Sacko
5 B. Kouyate
6 M. Haïdara
8 D. Samassekou
4 A. Haidara ↪81
14 A. Traoré ↪73
21 A. Traoré
19 M. Djenepo ↪81
18 I. Koné ↪73
16 D. Diarrhea
22 I. Diawara
9 E. Toure ↩81
10 K. Coulibaly ↩73
3 C. Traoré
12 M. Sissako
15 M. Fofana
7 M. Doumbia ↩73
11 L. Coulibaly ↩81
20 Y. Bissouma ↩59
23 A. Dieng
26 M. Camara

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