Mali edge Ghana to finish third
History repeated itself on Saturday, after a first-half Mahamadou Samassa header and an early second-half Seydou Keita strike guided Mali to a second successive third-place finish at the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon), as the Eagles defeated Ghana 3-1 at a soaked Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth.
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The fixture was a repeat of the 2012 Afcon third-place playoff, when Mali defeated Ghana 2-0 in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.
With cloudy conditions persisting, heavy rain started to fall half-an-hour before kick-off, making conditions increasingly difficult for both free-flowing sets of players.
The Ghanaians dominated the early exchanges and were in with the first chance after five minutes, but skipper Asamoah Gyan's tame effort on target failed to trouble Mali goalkeeper Soumbeila Diakite, who made a routine save.
Five minutes later, Mahamadou Samassa had Mali's first opportunity, after the striker was put through on goal, but Samassa fired his shot from a tight angle straight at keeper Fatawu Dauda, who made a solid stop on the ground.
Shortly after, Christian Atsu should have done better for Ghana when he received an excellent delivery across the face of goal from Solomon Asante, but Atsu shot straight at Diakite, with the keeper making a superb reflex save from close-range.
With action swinging from end-to-end, Samassa broke the deadlock in the 21st minute, handing last year's bronze medalists the early advantage.
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Adama Tamboura made a darting run down the left flank after a patient build-up by the Eagles, before putting an accurate ball in the Ghana area, as Samassa made contact with his head from a diving effort, beating Dauda who could do nothing from close-range.
Ghana came back strongly and brought the crowd to their feet as they thought Kwadwo Asamoah's shot went in, but the Juventus striker could only find the side-netting with his effort from right of the goal.
With rain bucketing down, Mubarak Wakaso forced a diving save from Diakite, after the joint leading goal-scorer of the tournament unleashed a fierce left-footed attempt, but Diakite – recalled after missing the semifinal – was up to the task.
Samassa came agonisingly close for Mali three minutes from the break as he managed to lift a neat ball over Dauda, who came rushing out to stop the advancing forward, but Samassa's chip hit the upright and bounced wide.
Mali were on the offensive and captain Keita asked further questions of the Ghana defence, narrowly missing a volleyed shot at goal, which was to be the last opportunity before the interval.
The Eagles stretched their advantage just two minutes into the second period when Keita smashed home past Dauda, after receiving a low pass across the goalmouth from Ousmane Coulibaly, leaving the shot-stopper with no chance.
Controversy, however, was not far away as referee Otogo Arnaud awarded Ghana a 57th minute penalty after Salif Coulibaly was adjudged to have handled the ball inside his own area.
Sensing a comeback was on the cards, Wakaso stepped up confidently, but flashed his effort over the goal, failing to add to his four strikes in the tournament – three of which came from the penalty spot.
Shortly after the hour mark, Gyan tested Diakite once again, as the striker hit a curling free-kick on target, only for Diakite to make a diving save to his right, denying the Black Stars their opener.
Keita responded with a free-kick of his own, but Dauda was equal to the task, tipping the ball over the crossbar and out for a corner.
Looking in top shape, Keita thought he had doubled his tally in the 72nd minute but was ruled offside by the linesman.
Having suffered a dismal evening, Asamoah sparked a revival from the Ghanaians as he pulled a goal back eight minutes from time, after his long-range strike appeared to have moved in the air, deceiving Diakite, who dived past the ball, handing the Black Stars their only goal of the match.
Second-half replacement Sigamaray Diarra had the last say, restoring Mali's two goal advantage and ensuring victory in injury time, after he volleyed in a well-taken effort from inside the Ghana area.