A hard fighting Niger earned their first historic point in the second Africa Cup of Nations participation after bravely holding DR Congo’s Leopards to a goalless draw in a pulsating Group B match at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium on Thursday night.
The ‘Mena’ of Niger put up a brave performance and could have easily walked away with all three points had to put to use some of the numerous chances they created especially in the first half and in the end, they earned a well deserved point, which leaves Group B on the knife edge.
South African based goalkeeper Daouda Kassaly who plays for Absa Premiership rookies, Chippa United, made up for his howler which gifted Mali striker, Seydou Keita the winner in the opening match, had a memorable game, pulling off three brilliant saves to frustrate the ‘Leopards’.
Kassaly first denied DR Congo’s Belgium based striker Dieumerci Mbokani in the 12th minute, in a one-on-one situation with a brilliant one hand save.
Then three minutes before halftime, again Mbokane was left tearing his hair in frustration when Kassaly pulled off another one handed save in a one-on-one situation after the Anderlecht striker had been set up by TP Mazembe marksman and captain, Tresor Mputu.
Kassaly bravely tipped the ball to his left for a fruitless corner kick.
Niger, who made their debut in the continental showpiece last year, could have made the best start possible as early as the 4th minute had striker Modibo Sidibe, who is currently without a team, took advantage of a defensive blunder by Larry’s Mabiala, came face to face with goalkeeper Robert Kidiaba but his curled effort came off the foot of the post.
Again, the lethargic Mabiala lost possession in his own half, Mohammed Soumaila, who had an option to pass the ball to feared striker, Moussa Maazou but he chose to go for glory and ballooned his shot woefully wide.
Niger, who played smarter and faster football and did not give DR Congo a chance to dominate and never looked like the side who lost all four games in the last Afcon, defended resolutely.
When Kassaly pulled off another save three minutes before time to deny Mbokane, the Mena’ of Niger grew in confidence.
They could have scored in the 54th minute when Maazou let fly a rasping shot which was tipped for a corner by TP Mazembe goalkeeper, Robert Kidiaba.
So frustrated were the ‘Leopards’ at Niger’s outstanding overall performance that Mbokane even picked up a yellow card for a foul on Niger’s Mohamed Chicoto.
Second half substitute, Boubacar Talatou, who plies his trade in South Africa for National First division side, Thanda Royal Zulu, saw his effort aimed for the far left corner tipped for a fruitless corner by goalkeeper Kidiaba deep in referee’s optional time.
Niger got a well deserved point, which leaves Group B on a knife edge and will be decided on the last games on Monday night.
Ghana lead the Group after beating Mali 1-0 with four points and Mali are on the second spot with three points after their opening win over Niger.
DR Congo’s Leopards are third with two points following their opening 2-all draw with Ghana whilst Niger lie on the final spot with a single point, their first in the Africa Cup of Nations history.