Mubarak Wakaso scored a penalty to give Ghana a 1-0 win over Mali in African Cup of Nations Group B but only after the victors were helped on their way by a huge error by the referee in Port Elizabeth.
Ghana goalkeeper Fatau Duada clearly handled outside of his box on three minutes with Seydou Keita certain to have scored without the goalkeeper’s illegal antics.
It was a certain red card for denying Keita a goalscoring opportunity, but the referee Noumandiez Doue from the Ivory Coast – who would book seven players from a contest that was never a kicking match – somehow decided to produce a yellow rather than red card.
Keita slid the free-kick inches wide of the goal and the chance was lost.
With 11 men left on the park, Ghana went on to score the only goal of the afternoon from a forgettable contest on 38 minutes when Wakaso planted the ball high to the left of Mali goalkeeper Mamadou Samassa after Emmanuel Badu had been taken out of the game late by Adama Tamboura.
Ghana are top of Group B on four points and could reach the last eight with a draw against Niger in their final group match on Monday.
Mali probably require a win against DR Congo to prevent them from tumbling out of the tournament at the first stage.
Ghana enjoyed a 2-0 win over Mali in the group stages of last year’s tournament with Mali reversing the result in the third/fourth place play-off so there was always a probability this would be a tight affair.
Ghana – who drew 2-2 with DR Congo in their tournament opener – probably merited their three points, but Mali will wonder what might have been if they had been facing only 10 men for the closing 83 minutes of the match.
Asamoah Gyan saw a shot deflect wide on 12 minutes while a Badu header came back off a post from Wakaso’s free-kick on 31 minutes.
Most of the pressure continued to hover around the Mali goal in the second period as Gyan swivelled to drill a shot a couple of yards wide on 56 minutes.
Cheick Tidiane Diabate should have troubled the Ghana goal on 64 minutes, but a poor first touch from a delightful Momo Sissoko cross let him down when he seemed likelier to get a shot away.
Samassa was needed to dive and nudge a Badu free-kick wide of goal on 78 minutes, but Ghana had already done their work for the day.
The small gathering of Ghana fans in an otherwise desolate Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium certainly seemed to be appreciative of the outcome of a sweaty sort of afternoon.