Ghana in strong position, Mali and Congo face off
PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa (AP) — With one inspired by conflict and the other by poetry, Mali and Congo will play off for the right to join Group B's likely other qualifier, Ghana, in the African Cup of Nations quarterfinals.
Mali will use the trouble in its homeland as "extra motivation" to stay in the competition and keep alive its chances of a first African title, captain Seydou Keita said.
Congo's seasoned French coach Claude Le Roy faces another crucial game in his seventh Cup of Nations and 31st match in charge of a team at the championship.
All that experience of the continent's top competition had left him "more peaceful inside," he said, as he quoted French poetry for reporters in the buildup to Monday's decisive round of group matches.
Title contender and group leader Ghana needs a point against bottom team Niger to make certain of its quarterfinal place, although a win for the defense-minded Niger team and a victory for either Mali or Congo would be disastrous for the Ghanaians.
Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah said the meeting with the tough Niger defense in Port Elizabeth would be the title contenders' "most difficult" challenge so far after it blew a two-goal lead against Congo and then just edged Mali in a slow start.
"There's no way you play a game and think everything went perfectly," Appiah said. "The important thing is to work on the mistakes and go from there and that is what I am doing."
The conflict at home would naturally be on the Malians' minds in South Africa, Keita and coach Patrice Carteron both said. The key was how they used it.
France sent a military force of 2,400 to the West African nation on Jan. 11 to fight Islamic extremists, who had surged southward from their strongholds in the north of the country.
"We are affected by what is going on in Mali because it makes life very difficult and complicated for those who live there," Keita said in Durban, where Mali will play Congo at Moses Mabhida Stadium. "But at the same time, it gives us extra motivation to bring some joy to Mali, and giving moments of joy to a country that is going through a rough patch is priceless."
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