Tunisia will go into their final group game at the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) needing a victory following a 1-1 draw against Mali in Suez.
Whereas Mali had begun their campaign with an eye-catching 4-1 demolition of Mauritania, the Carthage Eagles’ disappointing 1-1 draw in their opening game against Angola meant they went into Friday’s encounter needing a win to get up and running in the competition.
In a game long on intensity, Tunisia dominated but struggled to fashion clear-cut chances. Forward Wahbi Khazri curled a free-kick against the crossbar in the first half, and that was the closest the North African side came to opening the scoring.
The St Etienne man was at the heart of all the Carthage Eagles’ good play: pulling an effort just wide of the far post, before whipping a corner into the near for Yassine Taha Khenissi to head over the top.
Mali would punish their sterility in attack in the second half, taking the lead against the run of play. Diadie Samassekou’s corner kick on the hour mark seemed harmless enough, but it appeared to completely flummox Tunisia goalkeeper Moez Hassen, who dropped the ball into his own net under no pressure.
Tunisia’s response was swift, and after two quick substitutions, they levelled within 10 minutes; Khazri bringing them back into the game with a deflected free-kick that wrong-footed Mali goalkeeper Djigui Diarra.
They would, however, come under pressure in the latter stages from the Malians, who finished the stronger of the two sides: Porto forward Moussa Marega ran clear onto a brilliant through ball in stoppage time, but his finish was too tame to beat the onrushing Hassen.
The result sees Mali go clear at the top of Group E with four points from two games. They would be assured of qualification to the Round of 16 if the meeting on Saturday of Mauritania and Angola ends in a draw.