Ghana qualified in style for the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations with a convincing 3-0 win over Niger in Port Elizabeth on Monday.
The Black Stars thus finished top of Group B with seven points from three matches and will be joined by Mali, who were second on four points, in the knockout stage of the competition.
Mali recovered from conceding an early goal to draw 1-1 with the Democratic Republic of Congo in Durban to book a quarter-final date with hosts South Africa.
Ghana posted a master class display and took their chances very well, while Niger lacked ideas going forward.
Skipper Asamoah Gyan opened his Nations Cup account with a well-taken strike after just six minutes. He combined well with Albert Adomah before he drove through from the left to fire right-footed past Daouda Kassaly in the Niger goal.
Ghana doubled their advantage on 23 minutes with a well-worked goal, which was initiated by Christian Atsu and also finished by the exciting FC Porto ace.
Atsu, in for the suspended Mubarak Wakaso, combined with Gyan before he finished off the move coolly with a clever tap-in.
The enterprising Badu would have made it 3-0 four minutes from the interval, but he was denied by Kassaly, who clutched his shot from inside the goal area.
However, John Boye rammed home a rebound in the 49th minute for Ghana's third after Kassaly could not hold on to a powerful header by Gyan.
Gyan could have compounded Niger's misery in the 63rd minute but he failed to get hold of a high cross right inside the box when face-to-face with goalkeeper Kassaly.
Niger did have their moments, though.
Moussa Maazou's low cross from the right after two minutes was cleared into the side-netting by defender Isaac Vorsah.
In the ninth minute, Rennes defender Boye had to double up to stop hard-running Sidibe Modibo from causing havoc from a Boubacar Talatou low drive.
And from the resulting corner, Niger put the ball in the net through Ghana-born Kofi Dankwa, but Maazou was adjudged to have fouled the goalkeeper.
Another Maazou low cross was too hard and too long for Modibo to get a foot to as it beat the entire Black Stars defence.
In the 55th minute, Maazou failed to direct his header at goal and moments later, he delivered another low drive, which beat both Modibo and his Ghana markers.
Issiakou Koudize also let fly from the top of the box in the 57th minute but his effort missed target.
Substitute Issoufou Boubacar forced a fine save from Abul-Fatawu Dauda in the 76th minute with a curling shot from the left.
|Next up for Mali are hosts Bafana Bafana [AFP]
Mali can look forward to a date with the hosts South Africa after holding firm against DR Congo.
Dieumerci Mbokani converted an early penalty as the Congolese made a dream start only for Mahamadou Samassa to level later in the first quarter and the match petered out into a tame draw.
It was the first time in seven appearances at the competition with four countries that France-born DR Congo coach Claude Le Roy failed to make the knockout stage.
The Congolese could not have wished for a better start with veteran Tresor LuaLua Lomana foiled by the woodwork just 20 seconds into the first half and Mbokani converting a third-minute penalty.
Mali were all at sea in the opening minutes before a fair-size crowd at Moses Mabhida Stadium and former Liverpool midfielder Mohamed Lamine Sissoko tripped Diba for the penalty which Mbokani fired high into the right corner.
Goalkeeper Robert Kidiaba - at 37 the oldest player in this tournament - celebrated the lead in traditional style by using his bottom to bounce across the pitch with arms raised in front.
But comical defending allowed the Eagles to equalise on 14 minutes as the Leopards fluffed two attempts to clear the ball inside the box and it was cut back for Samassa to hammer home from close range.
The second half was a dreary affair with defences on top and the Congolese growing increasingly desperate for the second goal that would take them into the knockout phase.
Mali did come close to scoring twice in as many minutes as a Kalilou Traore header flew just wide off a corner and then another substitute, Cheick Tidiane Diabate, rounded Kidiaba only to see his shot go wide off the post.