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Mali bang home three goals but fail to qualify

Mali 3 (Kanoute 1, Keita 4, Bagayoko 86)
Malawi 1 (Mwafulirwa 58)

Mali had enough to see off Malawi 3-1 in Cabina, but failed to qualify for the African Cup of Nations quarter-finals as a result of Angola’s controversial scoreless draw with Algeria.

Their elimination will come as a bitter disappointment to coach, Stephen Keshi, and his band of star players, who had targeted the competition’s Final pre-tournament.

Mali prepare for failure

Frederic Kanoute put the Eagles in front in under a minute and Seydou Keita was on the scoresheet moments later as Mali raced into a lead that may well have worked more to their downfall, than having a positive effect on qualification.

The early scoreline will undoubtedly have filtered through to the other fixture in Luanda. And with the Black Antelopes and Desert Foxes both requiring a draw to progress, neither side felt the urge to throw caution to the wind and settled for the result that saw both teams go home happy.

Mali began their match with a real sense of purpose and when an overly relaxed clearance from Malawi keeper, Swadick Sanudi, went straight to Kanoute, he finished neatly from almost 40 yards.

If the first goal was about opportunism, the second was all about power and accuracy. Just two minutes after the opener, Keita rifled an unstoppable free-kick over the wall and the keeper into the top left corner.

To their credit, Malawi then began to get a foothold in the game. An excellent turn and shot from Joseph Kamwendo forced a solid save from Mahamadou Sidibe in the 24th minute, and Peter Wadabwa should have scored a couple of moments later when he nudged a free header just over.

Mali try in vain

Mali also had opportunities to kill the game before half-time, with Mahamadou Bagayoko challenging Sanudi with a low shot in the 34th minute. The goalkeeper then clumsily blocked Lassana Fane’s powerful free kick before Bagayoko wasted a clear chance by heading wide.

The Flames continued to pressurise the Malian defence early in the second half, but failed to create anything clear cut until they reduced the deficit near the hour mark. The Eagles defence has struggled repeatedly throughout the competition and more confusion allowed Russel Mwafulirwa to nip in and pull one back.

Malawi could smell the next stage now but Sanudi was called to duty once again in the 61st minute as he denied Keita a second goal of the match with a fine save, punching the stinging snap shot out for a corner.

In the 70th minute Mwafulirwa missed a sitter as his misdirected header bounced off the ground and over the bar as another golden chance went begging.

The last 20 minutes was a tense affair as Malawi gained confidence, pushing forward but carefully making sure they were not exposed at the back.

However, Mali finished off the contest with four minutes remaining as Bagayoko met Modibo Maiga’s cross to head home.

Frederic Kanoute vies for the ball with Malawi’s Peter Mponda

Malawi can take pride in their contribution to the tournament, but for Mali it was bitter disappointment which was summed up by Bagayoko: “This is really disappointing. They changed the rules this year and we are out despite finishing ahead of Algeria [on goal difference]. It’s a pity because we have a really talented bunch of players. We had the weapons to do something at this African Nations Cup.”

Elimination may well be heartbreaking for the Eagles, but Angola 2010 will be remembered as another competition where they underachieved.

Mali: Sidibe, Berthe, Abdallaye Maiga (Sow 50), Diamoutene, Tamboura, El Hadj Traore (Diallo 60), Fane, Mohamed Sissoko, Keita, Kanoute (Modibo Maiga 81), Bagayoko.
Malawi: Sanudi, Mponda, Kafoteka (Chiukepo 52), Sangala, Chavula, Mwakasungula, Wadabwa (Nyondo 48), Kamwendo, Banda, Kanyenda (Ngambi 71), Mwafulirwa.
Ref: Rajin Seechurn (Mauritius).

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