The Eagles of Mali kicked off their TotalEnergies Africa Cup of Nations Cameroon 2021 campaign with a narrow 1-0 victory over Tunisia in Limbé.
Ibrahima Kone scored from the spot two minutes into the second half after Ellyes Joris Skhiri was adjudged to have handled the ball inside the area.
Tunisia had a penalty of their own 15 minutes from time, but captain Wahbi Khazri saw his effort saved by Bosso Ibrahim.
The Eagles were reduced to 10 men in the closing stages following El Bilal Toure's heavy challenge on Skhiri.
The West Africans dominated proceeding in Limbé with their free-flowing football forcing the Carthage Eagles of Tunisia to sit deep.
Ibrahim Kone showed flashes of his ability inside two minutes, dropping a shoulder before forcing a corner from Ben Said in the Tunisian goal.
Boubacar Kiki Koutate headed over the goal from close range before Adama Traore also headed over the post seven minutes before halftime.
Mali started the second period the better side and were awarded a penalty when Skhiri handled the ball inside the box.
Towering striker Ibrahima Kone neatly dispatched the penalty to give Mohamed Magassouba's side the lead.
Tunisia won a penalty late on but Wahbi Khazri failed to beat Bosso Ibrahim, who dived to his right to deny the Tunisian captain.
The end of the match was marred by the controversial decision of the match referee to put the game off seconds before the end of regulation time. The Malians returned to the pitch to play the remaining time, but the Tunisians preferred not to return to immediately look into the next match.
Mali's victory sends them to the top of the group before their second match against The Gambia on 16 January. The Scorpions will play Mauritania in the second match of Group F.
What they said after the match
Ibrahim Bosso, Mali goalkeeper (Man of the Match)
"The strength of our team has been solidarity. We joined hands for this collective victory. It is very important to start well. Stopping that penalty gives the team a boost. "
Mohamed Magassouba, coach of Mali:
“We wanted to resume to play the remaining minutes but Tunisia did not want to resume, the referee then whistled the end of the game. We demystified the match, we managed with rationality the occupation of the field, the transmissions. Of course the ambition is to get the cup, we say it with humility, wishful thinking "
Mondher Kebaier, coach of Tunisia:
"The referee blew the whistle at the 85 minute mark at the 89 minute mark, it's lunar. He deprived us of concentration. We did not want to resume because the players had already taken their baths, deconcentrated and demoralized in the face of this gruesome situation. "