African Cup of Nations – Mali labour past Benin

 Mon, 21 Jan 21:37:00 2008

Mali got their African Cup of Nations campaign off to a winning start with a 1-0 victory over Benin in Sekondi.

FOOTBALL Frederic Kanoute, Mali - 0

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A floodlight failure pushed kick-off back by 15 minutes, though when they came back on it was unfancied Benin’s chance to shine, containing Mali well until a 49th-minute penalty from Fredi Kanoute decided the match.

Mahamadou Sidibe’s inability to judge crosses in the Mali goal gave Benin hope during a brief spell of pressure late on, though the favourites held out to move level with the Ivory Coast at the top of the embryonic Group B.

With the illustrious Spanish-based duo of Mahamadou Diarra and Seydou Keita at the heart of their midfield, Mali have been widely tipped as dark horses to win the tournament this year, though they struggled to impose themselves against a physical Benin outfit in a tight first half.

It was Keita who enjoyed the first chance of a tight first half, lashing just wide from 25 yards after being teed up by Kanoute, though poor goalkeeping from Mahamadou Sidibe almost allowed in Benin’s Oumar Tchamogo moments later.

A succession of spicy challenges on Fredi Kanoute presented Mali with numerous free-kick opportunities around the area, though every opportunity was badly wasted, while from one of their few chances at the other end, Razak Omotoyossi forced Sidibe into a fine save from a far-post header.

Benin were happy to go in level at half-time, though just four minutes into the second half their defence was breached as Dramane Traoré seized on a loose ball after Rachad Chitou had parried Kanoute’s drive, and went down under the challenge of Alain Gaspoz. The referee pointed to the spot, and Kanoute duly sent the keeper the wrong way.

Benin sent on Stephane Sessgnon to try and provide a spark of inspiration, though the Mali midfield stifled their opponents’ attacks well, even if they remained some way short of their best offensively.

A fine break late on from substitute Abou Maiga led to a fine shot from Sessegnon that was well saved by Sidibe, though the keeper then caused chaos in his own area coming for two successive corners and getting nowhere near the ball.

The Mali defence ensured their erratic keeper was well protected though, and they held on to claim the three points.

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