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Desert Fox downs Mali to set up four team showdown

Mali 0
Algeria 1 (Halliche 43)

The Eagles were unable to build on their opening game heroics as they succumbed to a 43rd minute Rafik Halliche strike against Algeria in Cidadela on Thursday.

The match was viewed as an opportunity for Mali to send the World Cup qualifiers home after their horrific first game defeat to Malawi.

However, it was the Desert Foxes who hit back at their critics, leaving all four teams with a chance of qualification in the group’s final set of fixtures this Monday.

Mali 0 Algeria 1: match report - Rafik Halliche
Algeria celebrate Hallinche’s winner

Before the game Eagles coach, Stephen Keshi, sprung a massive surprise, when he opted to leave out star player, Frederic Kanoute – waiting till midway through the second half before allowing the striker to see any action.

It was Mali who started the match better though, and Mustapha Yatabare’s second-minute free-kick caused uncertainty in the Algerian defence. Unfortunately,  Mahamadou Diarra was unable to find a team-mate with his pull-back after beating Algeria keeper Faouzi Chaouchi to the loose ball.

The Desert Foxes hit back when Karim Ziani’s swerving, dipping cross almost caught out Soumaila Diakite in the Mali goal as it struck the top of the crossbar.

Yatabare was proving a real handful for the Algerian defense and moments later he hit a powerful shot that flew just past the upright.

Even with the early chances though, neither team was able to get a foot hold on the game. Poor passing and scrappy play in midfield meant it was difficult for anyone to find a rhythm and most oppurtunities were occurring from set plays.

Cut above the rest: Algeria's Karim Matmour (L) skips a slide challenge from Juventus midfielder Mohamed Sissoko
Matmour jumps over Sissoko

Addelkader Ghezzal headed just wide for the Desert Foxes after an excellent run and cross by Hassan Yedba, while Chaouchi in the Algerian goal continued to flap at anything that went near his six yard box.

However, flapping was a common theme at both ends and in the 43rd minute it led to the opening goal.

Mali defender, Bakary Soumare, was booked for a clattering challenge on Yacine Bezzaz – a caution that will see him miss the final group game.

From the resultant free kick, Karim Ziani’s inswinging cross was completely misjudged by Diakite, enabling Halliche to sneak in between three defenders and head Algeria into the lead.

The timing of the goal couldn’t have been better and with their tails up Ziani put another testing cross in just before the break that Mali only nervoulsy cleared, leaving Keshi with much talking to do at half-time.

The Eagles began the second half with more urgency about their play and Seydou Keita forced a fingertip save from Chaouchi from a tight angle, although he really should have pulled the ball back to one of his three team-mates in the box.

Mali’s big stars – Keita, Mohamed Sissoko and Diarra – were struggling to make any impression on the game as Algeria were outnumbering them in midfield and Madjid Bougherra having an excellent game at the back.

Yebda’s attempted long range effort for the Algerians then forced Diakite to scramble across his goal as the ball eventually ran wide.

Falling down: Portsmouth's Hassen Yebda brings down Barcelona star Seydou Keita (12) with a bruising tackle from behind
Keita taken out

Kanoute entered the fray in the 66th minute, but he was unable to stamp his authority on the game.

Algeria were happy to sit back and soak up pressure as the Eagles search for another late equaliser ended in vain.

Afterwards a disapointed Keshi said, “The Algerians deserved their win. Right now we’re bottom of the table. We’ll go away and prepare for our final group game against Malawi.”

Indeed Mali are bottom of the group and only a win over the Bandas will give them any hope of qualification. However, even that may not be enough.

Mali: Diakite, Soumare, Tamboura, Abdallaye Maiga, Berthe, Mohamed Sissoko (Fane 66), Diarra, Keita, Ndiaye (Kanoute 61), Yatabare (Diallo 59), Modibo Maiga.
Algeria: Chaouchi, Laifaoui, Belhadj, Bougherra, Halliche, Bezzaz (Bouazza 70), Mansouri, Yebda, Ziani, Matmour (Ziaya 90), Ghezzal (Saifi 80).
Ref: Muhmed Ssegonga (Zimbabwe).

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