Mali became the fourth side to qualify for the 2013 Orange Africa Cup of Nations 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.