PORT-GENTIL Gabon, Jan 21 – Ghana secured their place in the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations as Asamoah Gyan’s goal was enough to beat Mali 1-0 in Port-Gentil on Saturday.
On an appalling playing surface, Gyan headed home from Jordan Ayew’s cross in the 21st minute to score his eighth goal at the Cup of Nations over six consecutive tournaments going back to 2008.
With two wins from two matches in Group D, 2015 runners-up the Black Stars are certain of another appearance in the knockout stage of a tournament they have won four times.
“In tournaments you need to be winning games and that is what we did today,” said Gyan.
“We are satisfied about our performance. Whether we play an excellent game or not, at the end of the day we just want to win and move forward.”
Mali have just one point but are not out of it yet, while Egypt and Uganda meet in the other Group D game later.
“Every coach has an element of responsibility for a result and the performance was not what we could have produced in the first half,” said Mali coach Alain Giresse.
“The players are disappointed but not completely knocked down. They will be ready to lift their heads for the last match.”
The state of the pitch meant the teams were not allowed to use it for their pre-game warm-ups, instead being forced to use an indoor facility.
The surface did not lend itself to a flowing game of football, but at least the sizeable Malian community in this Gabonese port city made for a raucous atmosphere.
Sadly for them, Ghana initially coped better on the pitch and they should have been in front in the 17th minute.
Christian Atsu, the standout performer at the last Cup of Nations, did brilliantly on the right before delivering a low ball to the near post which Jordan Ayew would surely have converted.
However, Andre Ayew took the ball off the feet of his younger brother and stabbed a shot wide.
Nevertheless, Avram Grant’s men were ahead before the midway point in the first period as Jordan Ayew crossed from the right and captain Gyan rose unmarked to head past Oumar Sissoko in the Mali goal.
The Ghana players celebrated by running across to the bench and holding up t-shirts with a message of support for left-back Abdul Rahman Baba, whose tournament was ended by a serious knee injury in the opening win against Uganda.
Sissoko did well to save a Jordan Ayew cross-cum-shot that bounced awkwardly in front of him and Mali then came out with greater purpose after the break.
Just as in their opening goalless draw with Egypt, the introduction of exciting young Lille midfielder Yves Bissouma gave them an extra impetus.
Despite that, they could not find an equalising goal, with Moussa Marega heading straight at Razak Brimah from a Bakary Sako cross and defender Salif Coulibaly hooking a shot just wide after Ghana had struggled to clear their lines.
Ghana were hanging on right until the end, with goalkeeper Razak making a fine reaction save to deny substitute Kalifa Coulibaly from point-blank range in the 90th minute and then beating away a Sako volley in injury time.