Wakaso penalty gives Ghana 1-0 over Mali

GERALD IMRAY AP Sports Writer Published:

PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa (AP) -- Mubarak Wakaso stepped up in place of Asamoah Gyan to bury a 38th-minute penalty and give Ghana a 1-0 win over Mali at the African Cup of Nations on Thursday.

Wakaso's strike put Ghana's Group B campaign on track after the title contender had blown a 2-0 lead to draw its opening match against Congo.

He capitalized from the spot at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium after Emmanuel Agyemang Badu was fouled by Adama Tamboura 10 minutes before halftime.

Captain Gyan decided before the tournament not to take penalties after a run of misses, leaving the young Wakaso to sweep his left-foot penalty home and then celebrate by showing a religious slogan on a T-shirt that could land him in trouble.

Mali went closest with an early free kick from captain Seydou Keita, but Wakaso's goal gave Ghana a deserved win after Badu had earlier hit the post with a header before winning the decisive penalty with a surging run into the box.

Wakaso's celebration, when he pulled his team shirt over his face to reveal the words "Allah is Great!" on a T-shirt underneath, could have more repercussions for Ghana.

The yellow card was already his second of the group stage to leave him facing a one-match suspension, although it wasn't clear if it was for pulling off his shirt or for the message underneath. Either way, FIFA rules also don't allow players to display political or religious slogans on the field.

Mali's best period was probably contained in the first 10 minutes at a stadium that filled up with fans as the game progressed. The teams continued a familiar recent rivalry in Port Elizabeth having met twice at the last tournament in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

Ghana goalkeeper Fatawu Dauda handled outside the penalty area in the sixth minute after early defensive confusion, giving Mali a set-piece chance from right in front and earning the 'keeper a yellow card.

Seydou Keita, whose burst through the middle was halted by Dauda's handball, curled the free kick inches past the left post, throwing his hands onto his head as the ball skimmed just past the upright with Dauda motionless.

Gyan controlled the ball well to create a half-chance for himself -- and Ghana's first opening -- in the 13th, only for his snap shot to be deflected away.

Afful Harrison blazed just over the crossbar in the 24th as Ghana began to press after a cautious start.

As Ghana improved, Badu emerged again as its crucial player after his goal against Congo.

He first rose to meet a Wakaso free kick from the left and sent a header off the outside of the post in the 32nd minute.

Four minutes later, the midfielder was challenged by Adama Tamboura for Ghana's penalty after making a darting run into the area from a Gyan pass. The Malians argued strongly with referee Doue Noumandiez of Ivory Coast that Tamboura had played the ball.

Wakaso still buried the spot kick with his left foot, choosing to go high and to the right corner and away from goalkeeper Mamadou Samassa and allowing Gyan to watch a successful Ghana penalty this time.

Mali skipper Keita couldn't quite connect with a deep cross in the first minute of the second half when free near the far post.

But Ghana pushed on in the second as Albert Adomah flashed a dangerous ball across goal and Gyan then went close with a curling shot past the post.

Badu also threatened with a 78th minute free kick that forced Samassa into a scrambling save and Solomon Asante drove a shot wide in the last 10 minutes.