PRETORIA: Ghana progressed towards the quarter-finals of the African Nations Cup from Group B and Niger secured their first-ever point on a sixth day of the tournament which celebrated ‘only’ a Ghanaian penalty in their 1-0 win over Mali in Port Elizabeth.
Ghana are top with four points from their two games, followed by Mali (three), DR Congo (two) and Niger (one) with Niger meeting Ghana in Port Elizabeth on Monday and Mali facing the Congolese on the same night in Durban.
All four teams are in with a chance of making the last eight and although it would be a surprise if Ghana did not make it, both Mali and DR Congo will believe they can make it through too.
Nigeria coach Stephen Keshi and his Zambia counterpart Herve Renard, winners of the title as a player and coach respectively, agreed that one reason for the increasingly close-fought games is that the best teams in Africa are being caught up by the lesser lights – and Thursday’s events bore out their opinions.
Ghana’s quest for an elusive fifth title and their first since 1982, remains on track as they followed up their opening draw with DR Congo with Thursday’s victory against a Mali side who finished third in the finals a year ago and came into the match after their opening 1-0 win over Niger.
All that separated the sides was a 38th-minute penalty converted by 22-year-old Mubarak Wakaso, who had a match to remember for good and bad reasons.
After striking his penalty beyond Mali keeper Mamadou Samassa, he lifted is shirt in celebration to reveal a t-shirt bearing the slogan “Allah Is Great” and was immediately shown a yellow card by Ivory Coast referee Noumandiez Doue. No religious slogans of any sort are allowed to be displayed by any player.
He was also booked in Ghana’s first game so will miss Monday’s match against Niger.
Niger, who lost all three games on their debut in the finals in 2012 and then lost their opening match in this competition 1-0 to Mali on Sunday, more than matched DR Congo for effort, skills and shots on goal.
They also squandered a fourth minute chance to take the lead when Modibo Sidibe fired against the post with only goalkeeper Robert Kidiaba to beat.
DR Congo, with a far greater tournament pedigree and the more experienced players, came back strongly and twice the mercurial Anderlecht striker Dieumerci Mbokani should have added to the goal he scored in the 2-2 draw with Ghana on Sunday.
His two excellent efforts were saved by Niger keeper Daouda Kassaly, who had an outstanding game.
“It’s a missed opportunity. It was possible for us to move forward. We have to concede that after we missed the two chances we did not play well,” said Congo coach Claude Le Roy.
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