Port Elizabeth — Ghana needed a penalty to beat Mali in their African Nations Cup Group B match in Port Elizabeth on Thursday but the Black Stars deserved a larger margin of victory.
Mubarak Wakaso's 36th minute kick followed a foul on Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, who was a deserved man-of-the-match winner and instrumental in most of the Ghana attacks.
The 1-0 win means the Black Stars now have what is expected to be a routine assignment against Niger on Monday in their quest for a quarter-final place.
Mali had beaten the Ghanaians in the bronze medal match at the last Nations Cup one year ago but had little of that elan in the encounter at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium. The Black Stars outplayed their rivals, with Agyemang-Badu the driving force from the midfield.
Ghana's new goalkeeper Fatau Dauda got caught in a mix-up with defender John Boye as Seydou Keita came bearing down on the ball and was forced to handle the ball just outside the penalty box in only the sixth minute. He was fortunate not to have been sent off.
It handed Mali the opportunity for an ideal early start but Keita missed the resultant free kick by just inches with the goalkeeper rooted to his line.
But after that Ghana seemed to settle and show more enterprise as Asamoah Gyan led the line.
The captain had a chance in the 13th minute after a pin-point pass over the top but his first touch was heavy and resultantly his shot took a defection.
Two minutes later Kwadwo Asamoah, shifted for this game out of the fullback position he was employed in against the Democratic Republic of Congo in the first group game on Sunday, took a long-range effort that packed some power but was blocked.
Wakaso tried his luck from range in the 26th minute but it seemed a pointless exercise from long distance with no real power or accuracy.
Ghana's next attempt hit the woodwork in the 32nd minute when Agyemang-Badu rose to head Wakaso's free kick before the Black Stars broke the deadlock from the penalty spot.
Wakaso picked up a needless caution in the resultant celebration and now misses the last group game against Niger in Port Elizabeth on Monday.
But his efforts counted in the early stages of the second half, with a free kick that just dipped over Mali's goal.
Mali had two half chances on the hour mark but were let down by poor ball control, notably from giant striker Cheick Tidiane Diabate.