Mali secured the first victory in this year's African Nations Cup with an uninspiring 1-0 win over Niger in Port Elizabeth. Both of Saturday's ties finished goalless and Ghana and DR Congo drew 2-2 earlier today, but Mali finally overcame stubborn resistance from Niger to go top of Group B on three points.
Chances were at a premium in a poor first half, with Niger coming closest to opening the scoring when Kofi Dankwa's volley brought an excellent save from Mali goalkeeper Mamadou Samassa. At the other end, Nice midfielder Mahamane Traore tried his luck from long range with a powerful drive which flew just wide of the post.
Classy Keita on song
Both managers will have been glad of the half-time interval to make some tactical changes and the contest did improve in the second period. The impressive Keita brought a good save from Kassaly Daouda with a left-footed drive from 20 yards, while Mali substitute Mahamadou Samassa wasted a good chance from 12 yards on 64 minutes when he could only fire into the side-netting.
A third 0-0 draw of the tournament looked on the cards when chances continued to be squandered, with Niger's Moussa Maazou rising superbly to meet a cross from Issoufou Boubacar but heading over the bar.
Keita then saw his shot from the edge of the area come back off the top of the post, but the former Barcelona midfielder was not to be denied. With time running out, Niger goalkeeper Daouda came out for a cross but succeeded only in dropping the ball at Keita's feet and he calmly steered his shot home for a deserved winner.