Ghana/Mali: Black Stars Head for Afcon Quarterfinals

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\n \n Photo: Chris Ricco/BackpagePix

\n Frank Acheampong of Ghana comes up behind Bakary Sako of Mali in a fight for the ball at the Afcon clash.

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Avram Grant cut a relieved figure as his Ghana side booked a quarterfinal appearance at the 2017 African Nations Cup finals with a game to spare in Group D after a 1-0 victory over Mali in Port Gentil on Saturday night.

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For the second game running the Black Stars failed to hit expected highs in terms of performance, but still grabbed another three points, and a clean-sheet, to highlight their potential in the match.

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The only goal of the game came in the 20th minute as Asamoah Gyan headed home for a Ghana-record eighth Nations Cup goal across sixth tournaments, starting in 2008.

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West Ham striker Andre Ayew had moments earlier missed a sitter when he shot wide of an open goal, but Ghana had to hang on in the end as keeper Razak Brimah had to make two excellent saves late on to deny Kalifa Coulibaly and Bakary Sako as Mali pressed for an equaliser.

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“In tournaments you play for the points. In the first half we went 1-0 ahead, we were dominating and we had chances to score even more goals,” Grant, who has hinted this will be his last hurrah with the Black Stars, told reporters.

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“In the second half they had the ball more and we needed to fight for the second ball. In the first half we played good football, in the second half we played, in my opinion, mature football.”

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Ghana lead the pool with six points from two games, followed by Egypt with four, Mali one and Uganda zero.

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They face the Egyptians in their final pool match on Wednesday when the winner will take top spot, while a draw will see the Black Stars stay top.

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Mali can still qualify but need a Ghana victory and to beat already eliminated Uganda in their final match.

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Mali have yet to find the back of the net in the tournament and although they had some bright moments against Ghana, don’t look like serious title contenders yet.

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Coach Alain Giresse says he takes full responsibility for their poor form, but is certain they can improve.

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“Every coach has to take his share of responsibility for the results and it is true that we were not up to the task in the first half. I assume the responsibility for that,” he said. “We were better in the second half thanks to the changes made and we could have drawn level in the game.

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“We have lacked efficiency in our first two encounters, especially today.”

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