Winning start for Mali
Bakaye Traore the difference to take three points
Last Updated: 24/01/12 10:01pm
Mali began their Africa Cup of Nations campaign with a 1-0 win over West African rivals Guinea in Group D courtesy of a powerful strike from Bakaye Traore.
The Nancy midfielder blasted the ball home from the edge of the area, with the help of a deflection, on the half-hour mark, and he and his team-mates held out against some frantic attacks from Guinea to claim the points.
It was perhaps harsh on Guinea, who occasionally looked second best in terms of class, but were rarely short of endeavour.
Indeed, it was Guinea who got off to the better start, with Ibrahima Traore testing Soumaila Diakite just seconds into the game and bringing a fine save out of the Mali goalkeeper.
Ibrahima Traore then turned provider, whipping in a cross which Alhassana Bangoura headed back across goal, forcing another good save.
Guinea had the ball in the net not long after, but the whistle had gone long before Kamil Zayatte's header struck the crossbar or Jean Habib Balde tucked in the rebound.
Barcelona's Seydou Keita, who shook off ankle and knee injuries to take his place in the Mali side, sent a free-kick straight into the wall from a good position before Guinea resumed their attacks with Alhassana Bangoura using electrifying pace down the right before shooting into the side netting.
But despite Guinea's attacks, Mali were controlling possession and they made it pay on the half-hour mark as Modibo Maiga cut in from the right and the ball came out to Bakaye Traore, who lashed it home and, with the help of a looping deflection, beyond the reach of Naby Yattara.
Guinea looked to respond as Ismael Bangoura ran down the right and cut in, only to have his shot charged down by the quickly-advancing Diakite.
Ibrahima Diallo was then harshly booked for diving, having been fouled by Mahamadou N'diaye on the edge of the box, but then overdoing it as he leapt into the penalty area seeking a spot-kick.
The start of the second half was dismal fare in long stretches, with no sight on goal until the 65th minute, when Razzagui Camara whipped in a wonderful cross which just eluded the oncoming Ousmane Barry.
At the other end, Garra Dembele raced clean through on goal, but Yattara made a well-timed tackle, albeit with two feet, to dispossess him.
Guinea desperately pushed forward late on, but failed to threaten Diakite's goal.
Africa Cup of Nations Group A
Africa Cup of Nations Group B
Africa Cup of Nations Group C
Africa Cup of Nations Group D