Algeria gave their hopes of qualifying for the CAF Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals a significant shot in the arm on Thursday with a 1-0 win over Mali.
It moved the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifiers on to three points in Group A, level with Malawi who play Angola later. The hosts and Mali are on one apiece.
Algeria coach Rabah Saadane declared: "This win has given the perfect answer to all our critics. I did my calculations before, six points should be enough to qualify. I didn't put any pressure on my team, I told them to go out and enjoy themselves. Now we have three days to recover before our final first round game."
Mali's Nigerian coach Stephen Keshi reflected: "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."Malian captain, Real Madrid midfielder Mamadou Diarra added: "We knew it was going to be tough, but we're a good team and we have a coach that will put things right for our next game. The state of the pitch made it difficult."
Saadane made two switches from the team routed 3-0 by Malawi on Monday, with Rafik Saifi and Samir Zaoui making way for Yassine Bezzaz and Abdelkadar Laifaoui. Saadane found himself one man down before kickoff after Kaled Lemmouchia walked out on Thursday morning, reportedly upset at not making the starting XI.
Mali's Nigerian coach Stephen Keshi wielded the axe for this second run out, dropping no fewer than six of the side that drew 4-4 with Angola last Sunday, including 2007 African Footballer of the year Frederic Kanoute. The Sevilla striker was joined on the bench by goalkeeper Mahamadou Sidibe, Souleymane Diamoutene, Bakaye Traore, El Hadj Traore and Mamadou Bagayoko.
Among those gaining a call-up were back to full fitness Juventus star Mohamed Sissoko, and his fellow midfielder Seydou Keita. The Barcelona player earned his place after coming off the bench against Angola to score twice.
A lively enough opening from two sides desperate to get three points on the board to keep their quarter-final dreams intact saw Algeria's Karim Ziani curl in from the left in the fifth minute with Soumaila Diakite tipping the ball over the woodwork. That early promise proved a false dawn as the game turned scrappy for a lengthy period.
Algeria, displaying a little more bite than they had done against Malawi, forced Diakite into action approaching the half hour when Karim Matmour fed Ziani whose effort from outside the box was parried to safety. The highlight, or rather lowlight, of the game for Mali came when Bakary Soumare was booked for an ill judged tackle on Yassine Bezzaz, meaning the French-based back will miss the next match.
Mali paid dearly for that as Ziani floated in the ensuing free-kick from 30 metres out for defender Rafik Halliche to head past Diakite two minutes before the break.
Mali almost drew back level in the 51st minute when Algeria keeper Faouzi Chaouchi did well to stop N'diaye's tightly angled shot from the left of the box but aside from a late burst of pressure Algeria held on comfortably. Angola take on Malawi later in Luanda with Group A's final batch of matches next Tuesday pitting Mali against Malawi in Cabinda and Algeria against the hosts back here at the 11 November stadium.