Durban – Bafana Bafana will tackle Mali in Saturday’s quarter-final in Durban after the Malians held off Democratic Republic of Congo in a 1-1 draw at the Moses Mabhida Stadium on Monday night.
The point eased Mali into the knockout phase as Group B runners-up behind Ghana, who will face Cape Verde in the other quarter-final in Port Elizabeth.
The battle to meet Bafana Bafana in Saturday’s quarter-final at the same venue took off at blistering pace. It was a perfect start for the Leopards of Democratic Republic of Congo when they won a first-minute penalty to take the lead.
Midfielder Diba Ilunga tripped under a challenge from Mohamed Sissoko, and striker Dieudonne Mbokani did the rest from the spot with a cool finish.
Regardless of what went on in the other match between Group B log leaders Ghana and Niger in Port Elizabeth, the Congolese had to go for broke in order to qualify as runners-up, and they occasionally had four men pushing forward.
Second-placed Mali needed only a draw to seal their spot, and they were calm in the face of the onslaught from DR Congo.
Their composure saw a fluid passage of play that led to the first-half equaliser in the 14th minute.
Winger Modibo Maiga and fellow midfielder Samba Sow were instrumental in the build-up that saw striker Mahamadou Samassa tap in Adama Tamboura’s final pass.
In between the goals the action was lively, but also physical, with lots of niggling tackles.
DR Congo captain Ngangu Mulumbu went into referee Djameel Haimoudi’s black book for making one tackle too many.
With word floating through of Ghana’s lead in Port Elizabeth, it was clear that Bafana’s opponents would definitely be from this match.
DR Congo tried to up the tempo, cajoled by their raucous supporters in the crowd.
Although the stadium was hardly filled to a quarter of its capacity, the noise was of a similar level to the night before when South Africa drew 2-2 with Morocco.
Enthusiastic drumming, whistling and cheering made for a colourful spectacle, especially from the majority Congolese expats. Durban is home to a sizeable expat Congolese community and they blanketed the stands in their blue, orange and white colours.
Their side also boasted a former Durban-based professional in attacking midfielder Alain Kaluyituka, who turned out for AmaZulu a few years ago.
However, the Malians were solid and gave away little.
Going forward the trio of Maiga, Sow and Samassa will prove tricky opponents for Bafana Bafana, especially with their physique and robust play.
The closest they went to conceding a goal was when Mbokani’s 74th-minute penalty appeal was turned down.
On the counter the Malians proved dangerous, with captain Seydou Keita striking the upright in the 82nd minute.
That will no doubt give South Africa coach Gordon Igesund much food for thought.
Mali coach Patrice Carteron made it difficult for the Congolese with perfect second-half substitutions to seal the defence and wind the clock down.
It will be an interesting quarter-final tussle between the brawn and brains of Mali and the skill and fleet-footedness of South Africa come Saturday night.