Waka Waka as Ghana in pole position and Niger Rohr

GHANA 1-0 MALI By Sam Crocker (@sam_crock) In a match that saw a foul approximately every two minutes, it was a Mubarak Wakaso penalty that was the deciding factor in the end, as AFCON officials continue to hunt around Port Elizabeth searching for all the pieces that this match was broken up into. The Nelson Mandela Bay stadium was sparsely populated, and those who did come must have wished they’d stayed at home and watched it on TV, as it was not one you would keep on your Sky+ box to watch at a later date. Patrice Carteron and his extremely casual match-day attire had ammo for his post-match interview defence within the first five minutes, however, as the referee bottled what could have been a game-changing decision. A mix-up between the wonderfully named John Boye and goalkeeper Abdul Dauda, in which Boye expected Dauda to come out and give it a welly up the pitch as he attempted to shepherd it his way, the keeper instead chose to attempt to let it run into his area so he could pick it up. Seydou Keita got in the middle of the two of them, causing Dauda to awkwardly fall down and handle the ball just outside the area. A yellow-card was only awarded by the referee for this, despite obvious intentions of denying a goal-scoring opportunity, much to Keita’s disbelief. The Malian captain then sent the resulting free-kick just wide, still visibly agitated by what he’d just seen. From there, it remained fairly balanced for most of the first half. Mali generally controlled possession, not really achieving much, as they periodically hoofed balls towards Cheick Diabate – who managed to achieve little else than prove that Modibo Maiga should start the next match. Ghana sat deep, trying to strike on the counter-attack and from Wakaso’s dangerous set pieces, but lacked anything down the wings to look particularly dangerous. Their best chance came in the 31st when a long-range header from Badu struck the post after getting impressive power behind it despite it being so far out. And it was not long until the only goal of the game came.

It was 34 minutes in when Badu was brought down by Tamboura after a nice little bit of interplay on the edge of the box, in what was a pretty terrible change, catching Badu like a scorpion with it’s pinschers between his legs. Wakaso stepped up, kept cool after a long delay making sure all the players were outside the box, and hit it comfortable into the right of the goal to make it 1-0 Ghana. It was a deserved goal for Wakaso, who has been one of the better players on the park with his midfield drive and consistently good set-piece deliveries. They made it to half-time with this score, with Dauda at the other end looking comfortable with Mali’s bombardment from the sky of his area, much to Carteron’s annoyance I’m sure.

The 2nd half produced little fruit. Mali perked up a bit when Modibo Maiga came on, but Ghana’s defence held strong, with Boye and Vorsah not looking in too much bother. Gyan looked lazy up front, failing to get on the end of the decent service he got from either wing, but occasionally going close with the chances out of nothing that he always creates. Diabate wasn’t helping things at the other end, constantly being found offside, as Mali generally looked bereft of ideas.

Ghana now find themselves top of the group with their final game against Niger to go, meaning that they should have sealed their place in the next round, with Mali hardly doing enough in the past two games to convince anyone they should be going through.

Man of the Match: Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu

Badu took on the best of what the Malian midfield had to offer. He single-handedly proceeded from midfield in the midst of Seydou Keitas, Samba Sows and Samba Diates. Badu was never overrun and he managed to stamp his authority on the match, winning his side a decisive penalty with a trademark run into the box.

DR CONGO 0-0 NIGER

Niger earned their first ever point at the Cup of Nations after holding DR Congo to a drab 0-0 draw. In another low-quality, foul-heavy game, both sides wasted gilt-edged chances to propel the chances they had to progress from the group. The result means that all four teams in Group B can still qualify for the knockout stages.

DR Congo coach Claude Le Roy’s rhetoric pre-match – “I’m too old to change my  [attacking] ways” – was one that promised that there would be no resemblance of reticence from the Leopards, and he was true to his word. Often seen as Africa’s answer to Harry Redknapp, Le Roy lined the team up in a traditional 4-4-2 formation, the starting XI unchanged from the side that started in their impressive fight-back against Ghana. Niger coach Gernot Rohr also retained the XI from their narrow 1-0 opening game loss against Mali, deploying a 4-5-1 system that was anything but as defensive as one would have presumed.

The earlier exchanges showed that that Niger weren’t merely hoping to nick a goal via a counter-attack. They were gifted a glorious opening minutes into the match when Modibo Sidibe robbed Larrys Mabiala to have a clear run at goal. The striker opened his body up and curled a shot past DR Congo goalkeeper Robert Kidiaba but it ricocheted back off the foot of the post.

DR Congo, the outstanding favourites for this match, were rattled, their gladiatorial duo  Cedric Makiadi and Youssouf Mulumbu unable to execute the simple passes that allow those ahead of them to flourish, and jitters were ubiquitous in their backline when they had the ball.

But it didn’t stop them having chances of their own, mainly through the great hold-up play of Dieumerci Mbokani.  Lomana Lualua twice sent shots horribly off target before a calm cushioned volley by Mbokani was denied by a terrific save from Niger goalkeeper Kassaly Daouda.

DR Congo had two excellent opportunities to take the lead just before half-time. The first fell to Mulumbu, whose sidefoot effort on the edge of the area went wide, before Mbokani’s close-range attempt, which occurred after Congo overturned possession and outnumbered Niger three-to-one, was thwarted by a magnificent save from Daouda.

With LuaLua’s expressiveness hindering the team and not offering adequate width, Le Roy was quick to put on the clever Deo Kanda at half time. But with playmaker Tresor Mputu having an eerily quiet game, inasmuch as later being substituted for Zola Matumona, and the game generally besieged by errors and fouls and a whistle-happy referee, little changed in the second half.

Niger led by the forays of captain and talisman Moussa Maazou down the right wing looked the likelier side to open the dreadlock. He had various efforts on goal, coming closest to scoring when he leaped high to direct a header goalwards, prompting Robert Kidiaba to be at full stretch to prevent the header going past him.

Right at the death, Niger nearly converted one point to three as Boubacar Talatou nearly won it for the Mena. The striker forced Kidiaba to parry the ball away before Leopards keeper gathered it in the forthcoming cut-back.

Man of the Match: Mohamed Chikoto

Described by SFG as ‘an intransigent by-any-means-necessary kamikaze centre-back’ before the tournament, we’ve seen the Nigerien defender at his uncompromising backs-to-the-wall best. In a drab game, he also receives the MotM award for entertaining us with a comical air-kick in the first half – an act that showcased a whiff of his technical limitations.

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