Nations Cup: Ghana beat Mali 2-0

By Stephen FottrellBBC Sport
Dede Ayew and Asamoah Gyan celebrate scoring against Mali
Dede Ayew and Asamoah Gyan grabbed a goal each for Ghana against Mali

Ghana are on the brink of a place in the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals after a 2-0 win over Mali.

Asamoah Gyan opened the scoring for the Black Stars with a beautifully struck free-kick from just outside the area.

Andre 'Dede' Ayew then wrong-footed the Mali defence before slotting home at the near post, after a clever back-flick from Gyan.

Mali were unlucky not to score earlier through Cheick Diabate's free-kick, which struck the Ghana woodwork twice.

The match in Franceville was a cagey affair in the first-half between two experienced Nations Cup sides.

Both teams also picked up a number of yellow cards, with the young Ghana defensive centre-half pairing of John Boye and Jonathan Mensah living dangerously.

Mensah was in the side in place of his namesake, captain John Mensah, who was suspended after picking up a red card in Ghana's 1-0 win over Botswana.

And the 21-year-old Mensah was lucky to only see yellow for a thumping challenge on Diabate, who stepped up for the resulting free-kick himself, only to see his chipped shot hit both posts after beating Kwaresey.

Abdou Traore was then unable to convert the follow-up.

Ghana increased their intensity in the second half and got the breakthrough, with Asamoah Gyan opening his 2012 Nations Cup account in some style.

The Al-Ain striker curled in a free-kick from just outside the area to Diakite's left, with the pace and curl on the ball leaving the Mali keeper rooted to the spot.

Mali responded by taking off Cheick Diabate and sending on Garra Dembele, and should have equalised immediately through striker Modibo Maiga.

Kwarasey, who looked uncomfortable in the Ghana goal all night, ended up stranded after coming for a corner and opened the goal up for Maiga to head home, but the striker could only nod it just over.

That missed opened the door for Ghana to hit back and double their lead, which they duly did through BBC African Footballer of the Year Ayew.

Gyan back-flicked deftly into the midfielder's path, before the Marseille man did the rest himself, wrong-footing the Malian defence, before switching feet skilfully and firing home with his left at the near post.

The second goal effectively killed off the tie, as Mali had no response and paved Ghana's path through to the last eight, where they join fellow pre-tournament favourites Ivory Coast.

Ghana head Group D on six points, but it will go down to the last game as both Guinea and Mali could still theoretically qualify.

Afterwards, Ayew said the win put to rest some of the criticism the Black Stars received after their tight 1-0 win over Botswana.

"After our first game people were putting a question mark next to Ghana," Ayew said.

"But today we've proved we are here and we're going to fight until the end."

Mali coach Alain Giresse, meanwhile, defended his team's tactics, despite the defeat.

"We didn't come to play a loving game," Giresse said.

"We came to win. Ghana is a good team, you know."