FRANCEVILLE, Gabon – Mali squeezed out a hard-fought 1-0 win over a determined Guinea team at the African Cup of Nations on Tuesday to go level with Ghana at the top of Group D.
Bakaye Traore’s deflected shot flew past Moussa Yattara in Guinea’s goal for the decider in the 30th minute, satisfying Mali’s small but constantly noisy supporters at Stade de Franceville.
Guinea had surged forward in the opening stages and Mali goalkeeper Soumaila Diakite had to make a save inside 60 seconds. Striker Ismael Bangoura also had a strong header palmed away by Diakite.
Barry Ousmane missed another chance for Guinea in the 66th when he failed to connect with a cross from the left by fellow substitute Abdoul Razzagui Camara.
The Alain Giresse-coached Mali matched title contender Ghana, which was forced to hang on with 10 men for a 1-0 win over unfancied Botswana in the group’s early game.
Guinea made much of the early running and then applied late pressure, but Giresse’s opposite number, fellow French coach Michel Dussuyer, became increasingly frustrated on the sideline as his team couldn’t find an equalizer.
All 16 teams have now played their opening games at the tournament and there has yet to be a draw at this year’s Cup of Nations.
Guinea arguably deserved a point as strong centre forward Bangoura, Ousmane and Pascal Feindouno all came close, with Feindouno’s fierce drive in stoppage time tipped over the crossbar by Diakite.
Mali started slowly, even with Barcelona’s Seydou Keita in the centre of midfield after he was doubtful for the matchup with knee and ankle knocks.
But after surviving Guinea’s early threat, Traore pounced on a loose ball and sent a powerful shot into the top left corner off a defender’s leg. Mali’s fans, who banged drums and chanted throughout, made enough noise for a crowd three times their size.
Ousmane couldn’t make any contact with Camara’s cross from the left wing in the 66th minute when unmarked for Guinea.
Camara caused trouble down that flank after his introduction just after halftime and twice the Malians also had to scramble the ball away with Guinea only needing a final touch to guide it in.
Dussuyer tried to spur on his players for one final push as Mali sat back and protected its lead and it nearly worked when Feindouno unleashed a shot from way out that Diakite had to push over the bar.
Mali: Soumaila Diakite, Adama Tamboura, Cedric Kante, Abdou Traore, Cheick Diabate (Garra Dembele, 64), Modibo Maiga, Seydou Keita, Drissa Diakite (Ousmane Coulibaly, 86) Bakaye Traore, Samba Diakite (Samba Sow, 74), Mahamadou N’Diaye.
Guinea: Moussa Yattara, Pascal Feindouno, Mahamadou Dioulde Bah, Bobo Balde, Kamil Zayette, Ibrahima Traore, Ismael Bangoura (Ousmane Barry, 62), Thierno Bah, Ibrahima Diallo, Alhassane Bangoura (Abdoul Razzagui Camara, 58), Habib Balde (Sadio Diallo, 80).