Mali produced three stunning goals as they thumped Africa Cup of Nations debutants Mauritania 4-1 on Monday, handing their neighbours a harsh lesson in their first ever match at the finals.
Abdoulaye Diaby blasted Mali in front and Moussa Marega converted a penalty to put them 2-0 ahead by halftime.
Adama Traore added a third before substituted by his namesake Adama Traore who then scored the fourth, both from outside the penalty area.
In between, El Hacen El Id made history by converting a penalty for Mauritania’s first ever goal at the tournament.
Mali, playing at their seventh successive finals, became the first team to score more than two goals in a match at the tournament and also produced arguably the best performance so far.
“We have a young team so we mustn’t get carried away,” said Mali coach Mohamed Magassouba. “We must go forward, match by match, opponent by opponent.”
Mauritania began brightly but were let down by too many elementary mistakes. They completely messed up one free kick around 30 metres from goal, gifting possession to their opponents, and their first touches were often heavy.
Mali took a while to get going but, with a young team of players based mainly in France and Portugal, were impressive once they got into full flight.
Diaby broke the deadlock after collecting a pass around 30 metres from goal, shuffling past two defenders and firing a rising shot into the net from just outside the area.
The powerful Moussa Marega was a constant threat for Mali, and after being denied several times, finally got on the scoresheet with a penalty in the 45th minute after Hamari Traore was tripped by Mauritania goalkeeper Brahim Souleimane.
Mali continued to dominate after halftime and, 10 minutes after the re-start, Adama Traore slipped past a couple of defenders and beat Souleimane with a low shot from outside the area.
Mauritania kept pressing forward and were rewarded with a penalty which El Hacen El Id converted, prompting delirious celebrations amid the players and officials.
Those were cut short, however, when substitute Adama Traore curled in from 25 metres to complete the scoring in style.
“We lost confidence after their first goal, lost the ball a few times, we lacked some aggressiveness,” said Mauritania coach Corentin Martins. “This evening was a disappointment.”