MONGOMO, Equatorial Guinea, January 28 – Second place in Group D at the Africa Cup of Nations will be decided by a drawing of lots in Equatorial Guinea Thursday after Guinea and Mali drew 1-1 in Mongomo to finish joint second.
In Wednesday’s match Kevin Constant put Guinea ahead and Modibo Maiga equalised, leaving the west African countries level on points, goal difference and goals scored.
Ivory Coast topped the table thanks to a 1-0 victory over Cameroon in Malabo through a first-half goal from Max-Alain Gradel.
Mali benched Sambou Yatabare and Bakary Sako — the scorers in draws with Cameroon and Ivory Coast — for the match at a packed Estadio de Mongomo in eastern Equatorial Guinea.
The Eagles were quickly into their stride with Abdoulaye Diaby firing just over 65 seconds after the kick-off and the same player had a close-range effort deflected for a corner not long after.
But while the pacey Malians were troubling the Guineans, the Syli Nationale (national elephant) took the lead on 15 minutes from a Kevin Constant penalty.
The Tunisian referee initially waved play on when an Ibrahima Traore shot struck the arm of Salif Coulibaly, but changed his mind after hearing from his assistant.
Former AC Milan midfielder Constant was ultra-cool in the 25-degree (77 fahrenheit) heat as he stroked the ball into the middle of the net after Germain Berthe dived left.
Just three minutes later Mali had a great chance to equalise only for talisman and former Barcelona midfielder Seydou Keita to fluff his penalty.
Baissama Sankoh handled a fierce cross from Modibo Maiga and Keita slotted the spot-kick timidly into the arms of goalkeeper Naby Yattara.
It was a rare dark moment for 35-year-old AS Roma attacker Keita, who played pivotal roles in his country finishing third at the last two Cup of Nations tournaments.
“Seydou, Seydou, Seydou,” was the encouraging chant of the large section of the crowd at the 15,000-seat stadium backing the Malians.
Quicksilver Diaby was a continuous threat and Yattara did well to tip his sizzling shot over the crossbar for a corner.
The Malian attacker turned provider two minutes into the second half as the Eagles deservedly drew level through former West Ham United striker Maiga.
Diaby burst down the right and his cross drifted over a Guinean defender, leaving Maiga to nod past Yattara from point-blank range at the far post.
Guinea were under continual pressure and suffered a major blow just past the hour when inspirational Traore was forced to retire injured with Seydouba Soumah coming on and Constant taking over as captain.