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By Ayodele Odumade
Mali drew with Democratic Republic of Congo to qualify for the quarter finals of the African Cup of Nations, while DR Congo was eliminated without losing a game.
In the very first minute of the game, Lomana Lua Lua hit the post and in the ensuing melee, Momo Sissoko brought Diba Ilunga down and the referee awarded a penalty to DR Congo. Dieumerci Mbokani stepped up and slotted the ball past Mamadou Samassa to give DR Congo the lead.
In the 4th minute, Sissoko had a shot saved by Robert Kidiaba. In the 15th minute, Mali drew level. Mamadou Samassa got on the end of a cross by Adama Tamboura and hit a low shot past Kidiaba. The goal settled Mali’s nerves as their midfielder Seydou Keita came to the fore and took control of the midfield.
In the 43rd minute, Keita put a good cross into the DR Congo box but Madibo Maiga headed the ball wide.
In the 59th minute, Somba Sow waltzed into the box but then went down, but the referee told him to get to his feet and waved away his appeal for a penalty.
Seven minutes later, Sow went on a run and crossed to Mamadou Samassa, who hit a shot that Kidiaba fumbled but managed to gather at the second attempt.
Mali began to turn the screw and continued to search for the second goal, which would effectively kill off the game and end the DR Congo resistance.
In the 68th minute, Mamadou Samassa saved Youseff Mulumbu’s shot with the tip of his fingers.
Although DR Congo went in search of a second goal, which will ensure that they and not Mali qualified for the quarter final, the final ball was just not there on occasions when they got into the Malian box.
In the 81st minute, a cross was put in by Mali and Kidiaba got his bearings wrong but Gabriel Zakuani came to his rescue and headed the ball wide. A minute later, Keita’s corner was headed just wide by Kalilou Traore. Cheick Diabate who came on as a substitute for Mali had a chance to kill off the game as he went round Kidiaba but he took it too wide and hit the post.
There were four added minutes but DR Congo could not find the goal they needed to qualify and so for the first time, Claude Le Roy failed to get a team into the next stage of the African Cup of Nations having previously done so on five occasions.
Mali lives to fight another day and will play South Africa in the quarter finals. Ghana who beat Niger to top the group will play rank outsiders Cape Verde in one of the other quarter finals.