Mali recovered from conceding an early goal to draw 1-1 against the Democratic Republic of Congo Monday and book an Africa Cup of Nations quarterfinal date with hosts South Africa.
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Dieumerci Mbokani converted an early penalty as the Congolese made a dream start only for Mahamadou Samassa to level later in the first quarter and the match petered out into a tame draw.
It was the first time in seven appearances at the competition with four countries that France-born DR Congo coach Claude Le Roy failed to make the knockout stage.
"It was emotionally difficult knowing what was happening in the Ghana game and knowing we needed just a point. We need to keep up our intensity," said Mali coach Patrice Carteron
There was no need for a calculator or a degree in mathematics to work out what the teams required from this game to make the last eight – a draw would suffice for the Malians while the Congolese had to win.
The Congolese made three changes from the team surprisingly held goalless by Niger four days ago with Peterborough United defender Gabriel Zakuani, Yves Diba and Alain Kaluyituka promoted.
Carteron was even bolder, axing four of the team that started in a 1-0 loss to Ghana and bringing in Molla Wague, Samba Sow, West Ham striker Modibo Maiga and Mahamadou Samassa.
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The Congolese could not have wished for a better start with veteran Tresor LuaLua Lomana foiled by the woodwork just 20 seconds into the first half and Mbokani converting a third-minute penalty.
Mali were all at sea in the opening minutes before a fair-size crowd at Moses Mabhida Stadium and former Liverpool midfielder Mohamed Lamine Sissoko tripped Diba for the penalty which Mbokani fired high into the right corner.
Goalkeeper Robert Kidiaba – the oldest player in this tournament at 37– celebrated the lead in traditional style by using his bottom to bounce across the pitch with arms raised in front.
Comical defending allowed the Eagles to equalise on 14 minutes as the Leopards fluffed two attempts to clear the ball inside the box and it was cut back for Samassa to hammer home from close range.
The second half was a dreary affair with defences on top and the Congolese growing increasingly desperate for the second goal that would squeeze them into the knockout phase.
Mali came close to scoring twice in as many minutes as a Kalilou Traore header flew just wide off a corner and another substitute, Cheick Tidiane Diabate, rounded Kidiaba only to see his shot go wide off the post.
Mali (1)1 (Mahamadou Samassa 14’)
DR Congo (1)1( Mbokani (pen) 3’)
Mali: Mamadou Samassa, Diawara, Tamboura, Coulibaly, Wague, Sissoko (Traore 73’), Diakite (Diaara 87’), Sow, Keita, Maiga, Mahamadou Samassa (Diabate 78’),
DR Congo: Kidiaba, Issama, Zakuani, Mongongu, Kasusula, Makiadi, Mulumbu, Diba (Kabangu 86’), Kaluyituka (Kanda 79’), Mbokani, Lua Lua (Mputu 46’)