Africa Cup of Nations 2013: Wakaso penalty sends Ghana through
Africa Cup of Nations 2013: Ghana book their place in the last eight courtesy of slender victory over Mali in Port Elizabeth
Ghana qualified for the last eight of the Africa Cup of Nations with a group game to spare after a narrow win over Mali moved them top of Group B.
Mubarak Wakaso’s first-half penalty in Port Elizabeth sealed a win over the Eagles, who beat Ghana into third place last year.
Ghana could have been a man down after five minutes when goalkeeper Fatau Dauda was yellow-carded for handling outside the area as he scrambled to smother John Boye’s short back-pass.
Former Barcelona star Seydou Keita – who scored Mali’s winner against Niger – could only drive the free-kick just wide of the left post.
Shortly after, Ghana’s appeals for a penalty were dismissed when Asamoah Gyan appeared to be tugged back as the four-time champions pressed forward.
Early attempts for both sides were restricted to long-range efforts, with the Black Stars’ left-back Harrison Afful sailing an effort just over the crossbar on 24 minutes.
Ghana looked more dangerous after the half-hour mark, and almost went ahead on 31 minutes when Emmanuel Agyemang Badu headed a free-kick against the post.
Their breakthrough came seven minutes later as Wakaso scored from the spot – despite Mamadou Samassa diving the right way – after Adama Tamboura slid in clumsily on Badu.
Mali signalled their intent by bringing on West Ham striker Modibo Maiga for midfielder Sigamary Diarra and almost levelled instantly as Keita floated a tempting ball across the box.
Ghana responded immediately as Wakaso’s free-kick floated just over the crossbar, before Gyan curled a 25-yard-shot just wide of the far post on 54 minutes.
With 20 minutes left, goal-scorer Wakaso was carried off on a stretcher after injuring his leg in a challenge, being replaced by winger Christian Atsu.
Mali brought on attacking midfielder Samba Sow but struggled to break down the side one place below them in Fifa’s world rankings.
Ghana almost doubled their lead on 77 minutes when Badu’s long-range free-kick was pushed away by Samassa, before substitute Solomon Asante curled a 25-yard-shot just wide with his first touch.
A tense final ten minutes saw yellow cards amount to seven but Ghana held on to secure knockout qualification ahead of their game against Niger.