Asamoah Gyan scored a trademark header to secure a 1-0 win for Ghana’s Black Stars over Mali and qualification to the quarter-final stage of the Africa Cup of Nations tournament.
His strike also established his legend in the showpiece tournament as the first and only player to score in six successive AFCON tournaments – 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2015 and 2017.
In an admirable display of sportsmanship, Gyan and his teammates run to the touchline and lifted the jersey of Baba Rahman in solidarity with the Schalke defender who was forced to withdraw from the tournament through injury.
It was the second successive game that Avram Grant’s charges scored in the first half and hang onto the slim lead as their opponents turned the heat on the Ghanaians in search of an equalizer.
Saturday’s game looked a re-enactment of the group opener in which the Stars dominated play but allowed their opponents run them rugged after the break.
But Saturday, Ghana goalkeeper Razak Braimah put up perhaps his best ever performance for the national team after pulling off some important saves to thwart the efforts of a rampaging Malian attack which pounded the Ghana defence with sustained pressure late into the game.
The Cordoba shot-stopper scored full marks, particularly in 89th minute when the Stars had their backs to the wall, pulling off a double save to deny substitute Kalifa Coulibaly and the Eagles of a deserved equalizer.
He first blocked a pointblank shot by Coulibaly and in a split second saved the rebound after Harrison Afful headed the ball back to his goalie.
It was a game which saw the Ghanaians stamping their authority on the first half in which Christian Atsu looked too hot to handle, Jordan running into the spaces and operating effectively behind Gyan, while Athletico Madrid youngster Thomas Partey brought a strong but calm presence to the holding midfield role in a man-of-the-match display.
But for a 13th minute corner kick which Molla Wague failed to direct at goal with his head, the Malians hardly threatened the Ghanaians.
Rather, it was Aston Villa’s Jordan who nearly increased the tally on the half hour mark as he unleashed a curling shot on the run from the left side of attack beyond the reach of goalkeeper Sissoko but missed the target by inches.
The Malians took charge of the second half, especially following the introduction of Mousa Doumba who initiated many attacks from deep midfield and forced Ghana to defend strongly, but their efforts were undermined by poor marksmanship by lead striker Mousa Marega and Wague who blew away fine scoring opportunities.
In the 79th minute, defensive strongman Daniel Amartey came to his side’s rescue after scooping the ball from the goal-line as Braimah was clearly beaten by an aerial ball during one of many raids of the Ghana goal area by the Malian attackers.
The Stars, who top Group D with six points, will play the Pharaohs of Egypt on Wednesday in Port-Gentil to determine the group winners.
The Egyptians defeated Uganda 1-0 Saturday in the second group game to place second behind Ghana with four points.
The east Africans are out of the competition after losing all their two matches.
GHANA: Razak Braimah, Frank Acheampong, Harrison Afful, Daniel
Amartey, John Boye, Thomas Partey, Christian Atsu, Mubaraak Wakaso, Asamoah Gyan/Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Jordan Ayew/Afriyie Acquah, Andre Ayew.