Mali scored twice within three minutes of the kick-off en route to an ultimately meaningless 3-1 victory over Malawi in an CAF Africa Cup of Nations Group A match on Monday. Hosts Angola topped the mini-league after a goalless Luanda draw with Algeria, who finished level on four points with Mali but reached the quarter-finals becuase of a superior head-to-head record.
Frederic Kanoute and Seydou Keita were the early scorers for the 'Eagles' and Mamadou Bagayoko wrapped up the three points after Russell Mwafulirwa had reduced arrears during the second half.
Kanoute, 32, was distraught at getting knocked out despite these three points in what is his last appearance in the competition. "I can't find the words to describe how upset I am," said Sevilla's 2007 Africa Footballer of the Year, who was the first non-Africa-born player to win the award. "It really hurts me that after we were knocked out in 2008 we really wanted to do well here. For my last appearance in this competition I wanted to go as far as possible."
Mali lacked Mamamadou Diarra of Real Madrid and fellow midfielder Bakary Soumare through suspension and made four changes from the team beaten 1-0 by Algeria last Wednesday.
The opening goal came gift wrapped from long-serving Malawi goalkeeper Swadick Sanudi, one of numerous 'Flames' who earn their living performing in the South African second division. He was far too casual in clearing a James Sangala back pass and wide-awake 2008 African Footballer of Year Kanoute volleyed the ball with his right foot into the far corner of the net.
Malawi were still reeling from the shock of conceding the quickest goal in this Nations Cup when they found themselves two goals behind 163 seconds after the Mauritian referee had signalled play to begin. If Sanudi must shoulder most of the blame for the first goal, he was faultless for the second as Barcelona midfielder Seydou Keita snatched his third goal of the tournament.
Mali were awarded a free-kick outside and slightly right of the penalty area and up stepped the midfielder to hammer the ball through a gap in the defensive wall and into the roof of the net. Midfielder James Kamwendo, the sole South Africa-based Malawian playing for a first division club, turned his back to Keita and jumped as the kick was taken, possibly obstructing the view of his goalkeeper. Free-kicks were proving a problem for Sanudi and his chin blocked a Lassana Fane effort 42 minutes into a first half that ended with Mali still two goals ahead.
Russell Mwafulirwa, the giant striker who missed the loss to Angola through injury, pulled one back on 58 minutes by slamming a loose ball into the net after a wild goalmouth scramble saw Malawi come close three times. The same player should have equalised with 19 minutes left as he lurked unmarked at the far post when a corner floated across, but his downward header bounced off the surface and flew over the crossbar.
Bagayoko put the result beyond doubt with a late header before goalkeeper and stand-in captain Mamamadou Sidibe made a point-blank save to rob Malawi of a second goal.