FC Barcelona midfielder Seydou Keita (32) became the hero for his country of Mali on Sunday after converting the fifth penalty for his national team against Gabon in the quarterfinals of the 2012 African Cup of Nations. After the draw in normal time (1-1) Mali proceeded to winning the resulting penalty shootout 5-4, booking its spot in the semi-finals alongside the Ivory Coast.
Mali progressed to the quarterfinals thanks to a victory against Botswana with Keita scoring the game-winning second goal for Mali. This time, they faced Gabon, who had a flawless record in the group stages with three wins from three matches.
Gabon dominated the match, but Keita helped sustain his side’s defensive balance, leading his side in pressing its opponents. However, there was nothing the Barcelona player could do about the goal from Gabon’s Mouloungui at the beginning of the second half. In the 55th minute, Aubameyang picked up a ball from the left, with his back pass across the box falling to Mouloungui, who sent the ball past Diakite.
The equalizer would arrive with six minutes left on the clock, through substitute Diabaté, who beat his markers in the box and gave keeper Ovono little chance of saving his effort.
After no goals arrived in extra time, the game turned to penalties to determine who would make the semi-finals. On the fourth kick, Gabon’s Aubmeyeang had his shot saved by Mali keeper Soumaila Diakite. This provided Keita with the chance his team needed. He stepped up and converted his penalty, earning Mali a spot in the semi-finals. They will face Ivory Coast on Wednesday, February 7th at 20:00 Barcelona time.
Speaking after the game, Keita noted that “it was like a dream when I scored the winning penalty. I’m so proud to wear this shirt. I’ve won a lot with Barcelona but this is like winning the Cup.”
Celebration marred by violence at home
Besides being simply about football, Seydou Keita, in finest Barça style, has used his presence in the African Cup of Nations to raise awareness on certain issues important to him, his country, and the continent represented in the tournament.
At the start of the tournament, Keita backed an Oxfam campaign raising awareness of the food crisis sweeping the Sahel after a year of poor rains.
After earning a spot in the semi-finals, this time Seydou Keita spoke about the crisis that has been overwhelming his country over the last 10 years.
Keita, in tears, said, “I’m appealing to the people to stop. It’s not normal, we don’t do that. We need peace, we are all Malians. The president of the republic needs to do the most he can to stop it. We are celebrating our win but at the same time we feel very sad. There is a sadness among the players.”
For details of the situation, with half of Mali effectively in a state of war, we turn to the words of Guardian reporter Jonathan Wilson:
The Tuareg have been fighting a separatist war in the north-east for years, with major outbreaks of fighting between 1990 and 1995 then from 2007 to 2009. They are a nomadic people, wandering across the desert regions of Algeria, Libya, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, largely ignoring national borders. Colonel Gadaffi sponsored that second uprising, intending to destabilise the government in Bamako.
After it was defeated, many of the rebels fled to Libya, where they helped shore up the Gadaffi regime. When Gadaffi fell, between 2,000 and 4,000 people – depending whose account you believe – fled across the border into the mountains of north-eastern Mali, laden with arms and cash. It’s they who are behind the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (the north-eastern part of Mali comprising Timbuktu, Kidal and Gau). The Malian government accuses them of links with al-Qaida, although they deny it.
The NMLA has attacked towns in the region, and at least 20 people were killed in fighting around Timbuktu at the weekend. It’s estimated 15,000 Malians have fled into neighbouring Niger and Mauritania, while rioting in Bamako – in protest at the army’s inability to stop the NMLA – has led several Tuarag to flee the capital for fear of reprisals.