Mali became the fourth side to qualify for the 2013 Orange Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals following their 1-1 draw with the Democratic Republic of Congo at the Moses Mabhida in Durban on Monday night. Mali will now play hosts, South Africa on Saturday, 02 February 2013, at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in the quarterfinals of the continental showpiece.
The last time South Africa and Mali met in the quarterfinals of the Africa Cup of Nations was back in 2002 in Mali. The South Africans lost that encounter 2-0.
DR Congo cannot be accused of not trying on the night. To their defence, they played some of the most innovative football in the group stages but they often could not convert their nice build-ups into goals. On Monday night, they showed flashes of brilliance but often struggled to penetrate a disciplined Mali last night of defence.
Going to their last group match, DR Congo had not lost a game in their two group matches. They drew 2-2 with Ghana in an exciting match in Port Elizabeth's Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium and also managed a goalless draw against Niger at the same venue. They left Moses Mabhida knowing that they did not lose a match during this tournament. But that is statistics.
Mali, on the other hand, went to Durban with three points having beaten Niger but lost to Ghana. The draw earned them an extra point taking their tally to four points - just behind the Black Stars who topped the group with seven points.
It was DR Congo who had declared their intentions early on the match when they launched several raids on Mali's goalmouth in a space of just under a minute. Their persistence soon paid off when DR Congo were awarded a penalty after Mali's Mohamed Sissoko was judged to have brought down Ilunga Diba on the second minute of the game. Dieudonne Mbokani stepped up to take the kick and converted from the spot.
However, Mali gave a swift response. From a neat build-up in the midfield which included some inter-passing, Mahamadou Samassa equalised 12 minutes after the DR Congo had taken the lead. The goal was as a result of Mali's persistence attacks on Congo's last line of defence.
As Mali applied the pressure after that equaliser through Modibo Maiga and captain, Seydou Keita, DR Congo's defence had some anxious moments.
The sides went to the half-time interval on 1-1.
In the second half, DR Congo introduced the innovative Tresor Mputu. His arrival somehow reignited the spark in DR Congo's game when going forward. This was an attempt by DR Congo coach, Claude Le Roy to unlock the Mali defence that had already adopted a cautious approach towards the end of the first half.
If Mali were going to sit back, DR Congo were determined to throw numbers forward in an attempt to put them under pressure.
They came agonisingly close. With 20 minutes to full-time, DR Congo's Mulumbu unleashed a powerful strike that shaved the upright.
In a space of less than a minute, Mali hit the woodwork twice - first a header from substitute Mohamed Traore and later Tidiane Diabate. The two moments were the best chances of the second half.
Mali v DR Congo post-match reaction
Patrice Carteron, Mali coach
"We are happy to have qualified for the quarterfinals. We played a difficult game against a difficult team. They have a good team and a good coach.
"Our next match is against South Africa. That will be another tough game for us but I believe that pressure will be on them on Saturday. This stadium (Moses Mabhida) will be full with all the supporters of South Africa, but we will do our best."
Seydou Keita, Mali captain
"This means a lot for Mali. This qualification will give hope to Mali people, you all know what is happening in our country. I'm very happy.
"I think we played very well, this was a good game. We have our next game against Bafana Bafana. I'm hoping we can continue playing well in this tournament. We have played against Bafana before, they are a host country, they are big here in Durban. We are going to play them in their own ground that won't be easy."
Claude Le Roy, Democratic Republic of Congo coach
"We mastered the game but we didn't create enough chances. I want to congratulate Mali. I know that this win means a lot for the people of Mali. I know that Mali is going through a difficult moment right now, but they are not alone, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, we have many internal problems and people have died."
Mulumbu, DR Congo Captain
"We are sad; we are sad because we didn't lose a match in this competition. We didn't score goals, we didn't create enough chances that is why we are out of the tournament. It hurts because we have a good team and good players. I hope we will get back as a team and the coach and work on our mistakes in order to improve maybe in 2015."