Mali beat Niger 1-0 in Group B's second match on Sunday at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth. The Eagles captain Seydou Keita handed his side the hard-fought victory five minutes to before the end of the encounter
The Malians dominated play through the half hour mark, with another goal chance falling to Keita, but he crashed his volley against Diabate, who was waiting in the box to conclude the action.
Mali are participating in their eighth Africa Cup of Nations finals while Niger are appearing for the second time in the competition.
The Mena were still struggling to get a foothold in the game as the first half wore on. The group, mostly composed of home based players, chose to apply an extensive defending formula in a bid to thwart the Eagles' efforts, but suffered agonizing domination in the process.
Despite their overwhelming control of the midfield and superior ball possession, Mali were unable to open the scoring, as their efforts were restricted to some aimless shots delivered by Diabate, Sigamary Diarra of Ajaccio and Kalilou Traore.
However, Niger maintained their combative mood throughout the first half while Mali kept pushing in search of close-range faults. However, none of the ensuing free kicks went on target as the score stood at a goalless draw by half time.
Mali coach Patrice Carteron chose to bring more pace to his side in the second half by substituting Cheick Fantamady Diarra with Mahamadou Samassa of Serie A side Chievo, which almost immediately paid off when the 26-year-old cut in from the left but dragged his effort wide.
Besides, The Eagles were still on top of proceedings after the break and could have broken the deadlock in the 54th minute, but Keita's powerful long-range effort was breath-takingly parried by Kassaly, leaving the former Barcelona midfielder ruing the missed chance.
Finally, the scoreline remained unchanged at 1-0 in favour of Mali until the final whistle. The Eagles become the first team at the 2013 Afcon to bag all three points and are now leaders of Group B after Ghana and DR Congo ended their faceoff in a 2-2 draw.