African Cup of Nations – Nigeria on the brink after stalemate

Fri, 25 Jan 21:37:00 2008

Nigeria, one of the pre-tournament favourites, have found themselves on the brink of elimination from the African Cup of Nations after playing out a turgid 0-0 draw with Mali in Sekondi.

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The Super Eagles now need to beat Benin in their final Group B game and hope that Mali lose to an Ivory Coast side that have already qualified for the last eight.

Nigeria probably edged this contest in terms of possession, but couldn’t force Mali goalkeeper Mahamadou Sidibe into a single meaningful save.

In fact, the two best moments of the match came from Mali’s playmaker Seydou Keita who twice came close with long-range efforts in the second-half.

His first strike was well pushed away by Austin Ejide, and then, eight minutes from time, the Sevilla man almost nicked it but saw a smashing drive crash against the top of the crossbar.

Nigeria dropped Portsmouth duo Kanu and John Utaka in a bid to add more creative width to their side, but just like in their opening 1-0 defeat to the Ivory Coast, they were anaemic in attack.

Yakubu did have the ball in the net in 79th minute, but was clearly offside, and a low drive that went just wide from John Obi Mikel near the death was the best they could muster.

The Mali defence had to soak up some pressure, but with their backline being superbly led by Lens centre-back Adama Coulibaly, they never really looked in danger of conceding and indeed Freddie Kanoute nearly nicked it at the death but scuffed a half-chance.

Jean-François Jodar’s team now know they need just a point against the Ivorians to move on, although they will have to play that game without their captain Mahamadou Diarra, with the Real Madrid man having picked up his second yellow-card of the tournament.

Berti Vogts on the other hand, needs to find a win against Benin and then hope that the Elephants chime in with a favour, or else he will almost certainly be out of a job.

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