Durban — Mali’s deep resources of talent in the midfield proved the determining factor in their qualification on Monday for the African Nations Cup quarter-finals, ahead of the Democratic Republic of Congo in their match at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.
They dominated the battle for possession, smothered the opponent’s attempts at pushing forward and ensured a haltering game that did not allow for any free flowing play.
The tactical acumen of Seydou Keita and the surges forward of players like Samba Diakite, Samba Sow and, when he came on as a second-half substitute, Khalilou Traore, effectively kept Congo having to defend when they were the team seeking the victory.
Needing just to draw to make sure of their progress, Mali recovered from an early setback to put a stranglehold on the game and were never under any real threat.
But as much as their midfield is a dominant force, so they have shown a vulnerability in defence, as well as attack, that denies them a balanced line-up.
They changed their two lead strikers for the game against the Congolese after failing to score in their previous game against Ghana.
Mahamadou Samassa, who competes in Serie A in Italy, responded with the equaliser in the 14th minute after Congo had taken a shock early lead.
It was a simple tap-in but one of only two chances he had all game.
Cheikh Tidiane Diabate, dropped to the bench, came on to look lively in the closing stages but this at a time when Congo were having to push forward.
Mentally Mali seemed strong. This comes from the confidence built up at the last Nations Cup, when they were unexpected bronze medal winners.
Again making it to the knockout stage will further boost their self belief.
South Africa are their next opponents in the last eight. The match is in Durban on Saturday.