BAMAKO — Mali defender Moussa Sissako scored a first-half own goal and was sent off four minutes later to dent his country’s World Cup qualifying hopes as they lost 1-0 at home to Tunisia in Friday’s first leg of their playoff tie.
The 21-year-old Sissako, making his fourth appearance for Mali, put the ball in his own net with a back pass in the 36th minute which caught goal keeper Ibrahim Mounkoro off his line.
Matters went from bad to worse when Tunisia broke away, leaving Sissako to chase down Seifeddine Jaziri, clipping his heels just outside the penalty area and earning a straight red.
Mali vs Tunisia Highlights
Mali is bidding to reach their first World Cup but have their backs to the wall as they head to Tunis for Tuesday’s second leg.
It also proved a disappointing debut for Everton’s Abdoulaye Doucoure, who switched his international allegiance after playing for France at youth level but was taken off at halftime.
Mali did have chances in the first half but were let down by poor finishing. Abdoulay Diaby, returning to the side for the first time in more than two years, came closest for the hosts with a stinging shot that Bechir Ben Said did well to save.
Down to 10 men, Mali struggled to keep up the same intensity in the second half but still created the better chances. A penalty claim just before the 70th minute was turned down after a check by VAR.
Victory for Tunisia marked a successful debut for new coach Jalel Kadri, appointed after they lost to Burkina Faso in the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals in January.
Mali were hosting a match for the first time in a year after playing 'home' games in last year’s group phase of the African qualifiers in Morocco because none of their stadiums were deemed fit for use by the Confederation of African Football.
But renovations to the March 26 Stadium in Bamako saw the ban lifted for Friday’s game, watched by a capacity crowd.
(Writing by Mark Gleeson in Cape Town; Editing by Ken Ferris)