A late goal from Seydou Keita saw Mali secure a crucial 1-0 win over Niger in their Africa Cup of Nations Group B match in Port Elizabeth on Sunday night.
The Eagles’ victory at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium sees them top the pool on three points ahead of Ghana and DR Congo, who drew 2-2 earlier in the day.
Mali deserved the victory after dominating possession and having more chances, including hitting the woodwork.
There was an early effort from Diabate as he drove a low effort in the third minute. However, Kassaly got done well to hold for Niger. Then an ambitious shot from Traore from 35-yards out drifted wide via a deflection in the 16th minute.
In the 22nd minute Niger won a corner on the right flank. Issoufou delivered and after a scramble, the ball dropped to Dan Kowa. He smashed a shot goal bound, but Samassa did well to block his effort and the ball rolled out for the throw in.
On the half hour mark, Traore delivered and the ball took a slight deflection as it was aimed towards the back post. Diarra was unmarked, but couldn’t adjust his body shape and kneed the ball out for a goal kick. He had the Niger keeper at his mercy after the shot-stopper had initially missed the ball in the air.
In the 66th minute Mahamadou Samassa fainted past his markers, but put his low right-footed shot into the side of the net.
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In the 78th minute there was a great chance for Mali. Diarra picked out Diabate in space. He cushioned his lay off for Keita, who looked to pass the ball into the back of the net. The midfielder struck the post before Lancina could put behind for a corner.
With six minutes remaining the Eagles of Mali found the crucial goal they had been seeking all match. Diawara delivered the ball into the box and it looked to be a routine catch for Niger keeper Kassaly Daouda. He fumbled, however, and the ball fell to Keita, who had the simplest of task of shooting into an open net.