The West Africans who took to the pitch having won two and drawn their three group stage matches were outdone by a resolute Warriors team that worked their socks out and were full value for their win.
Ian Gorowa’s side scored in each half and the few chances that mali created were expertly absorbed by the hardworking Warriors defence, save for the consolation effort in the dying minutes of the match.
From yesterday’s showing, Zimbabwe might be a safe bet to win this tournament. They were quicker to the ball, utilised their chances and completely shut out Malian strikers that had caused havoc against Nigeria, Bafana Bafana and Mozambique. On few occasions that the Zimbabwe defence was breached, giant goalkeeper George Chigova was equal to the task.
It was the Warriors that applied early pressure forcing three consecutive corner kicks.
They duly took the lead in 10th minute through Simba Sithole who took advantage of the hesitant Mali defence to slot a low shot past Soumaila Diakite.
Mali then turned on the heat creating some really good chances but Zimbabwe always looked dangerous on counter-attacks.
Peter Moyo brought the best out of Diakite as the Warriors almost doubled the score on the 23rd minute. However, the acrobatic Mali keeper tipped the goal bound pile drive over the bar.
An attempted snap shot by Malian striker Abdoulaye Sissoko was well-saved by Chigova in goals for Zimbabwe.
Masimba Mambare then saw his long range effort palmed away by Diakite as the match soon turned into a ding dong affair.
Another long range shot by Ali Sadiki gave Diakite lots of problems as an upset appeared on cards.
Sithole was then guilty of a horrendous miss on the 40th minute when he was set up by Kudakwashe Mahachi inside the box but blazed an open opportunity wide of the stranded Diakite.
Mali rued a clear-cut opportunity at the stroke of half-time when Lassana Diarra blazed his cracking shot over the bar from less than five metres away.
Incessant pressure by Mali at the beginning of the second half showed their clear intent but Zimbabwe’s rock-solid defence stood firm.
Mahachi then put the issue beyond doubt when he again out-foxed Malian defence to make it 2-0 in the 54th minute.
Mambare could have put the icing on the cake in the 83rd minute, but his cross-cum-strike was acrobatically saved by Diakite.
Mali scored what proved a consolation goal when substitute Hamidou Sinayoko headed in a close range effort for the 2-1 scoreline in the 87th minute as Zimbabwe celebrated a famous win.
Confederation of African Football (CAF) News