Durban — Mali provided a display of midfield force on Monday to obtain the point they needed to progress to the knockout stages of the African Nations Cup.
The 1-1 draw with the Democratic Republic of Congo meant Mali finished second in Group B, behind Ghana, and will stay in Durban to play hosts South Africa on the first day of the knockout phase on Saturday.
Mali never looked in any trouble against Congo except in the first minute when a shot hit the post and a penalty was given against them in a dramatic start to the match at a wet Moses Mabhida Stadium.
It was conceded after just 35 seconds when Momo Sissoko brought down Yves Diba, allowing Dieumerci Mbokani to score his second from the spot at the tournament. The foul came after a shot from Lomana Lua Lua had bounced back off the goal post.
Mali were then on the back foot, with Congo needing a win to go through and having made the perfect start.
But the pendulum swung quickly as Mali got their first shot in after just five minutes and were level soon after. A forceful run from fullback Adama Tamboura set up the 14th-minute equaliser when he pulled the ball back for Mahamadou Samassa to tap it home. Tamboura cut through several defenders and left Samassa with an easy finish.
Most of the game was a battle of midfield attrition and by the end of the game a tally of 51 fouls had been racked up. There were also seven cautions, although none impact on possible suspension for the South Africa game.
The second half had few chances and the big contingent of Congo fans did little to urge on their team as they battled to force their way past a strong Mali midfield and defence.
Samassa might have had a second goal in the 69th minute when Kidiaba spilled his shot but the ball trickled away for a corner.
With eight minutes left Mali twice hit the outside of the woodwork as they expertly kept the play in Congo's half. The first was a header from Kalilou Traore and the second a shot from a tight angle from substitute Cheikh Tidiane Diabate.
The expected late surge from Congo did not materialise, leaving Mali to celebrate their progress to the quarter-finals.