SEKONDI, Ghana (AFP) - Mali edged closer to the last eight of the 2008 African Nations Cup on Friday when they held Nigeria to a goalless draw in a crucial Group B match.
Mali now four points from two matches while Nigeria have one point.
Ivory Coast top the group with six points, and have booked their place in the quarter-finals, while Benin are pointless and bottom.
"We played well but we have not been lucky with scoring. However, we are still in there with a chance. We just have to wait and see what happens in the last round of matches in our group," said Nigeria's man-of-the-match John Mikel Obi.
Nigeria made several changes to the team which started their opening defeat to the Ivory Coast.
Osaze Odemwingie replaced injured Nwankwo Kanu, Obinna Nsofor came in for John Utaka while Obinna Nwaneri was preferred to Onyekachi Apam at right back.
The Eagles started out by delivering long balls behind the Malian defence in search of twin strikers Obafemi Martins and Yakubu Aiyegbeni, who used his size and power to good effect.
The first shot fired in anger was in the 16th minute when Martins rifled home from the top of the box but goalkeeper Mahamadou Sidibe went down well to make a comfortable save. Soon after Yakubu, set up by Odemwingie, also fired a grounder but again Sidibe saved easily.
Mali paraded a top-class midfield that included Mahamadou Diarra, Seydou Keita and Mohammed Sisoko but Chelsea ace Mikel along with Wolves midfielder Seyi Olofinjana held their own in the engine room.
However, Olofinjana will miss Nigeria's next group game against Benin after he was booked for the second time in the competition in the 37th minute for a late tackle on Seydou Keita.
Mali skipper Mahamadou Dirra will also miss his team's next game after a rough tackle on Ikechukwu Uche in the dying minutes of the encounter.
Nigeria started brightly again after the break but it was Mali who threatened to open scoring in the 47th minute when Seydou Keita low shot was pushed away by Austin Ejide for a corner kick.
Encouraged by this Mali piled on the pressure but it was the Super Eagles who came closest to a goal in the 59th minute after Yakubu bundled into goalkeeper Sidibe inside the six-yard box.
On 70 minutes Sidibe was alert to save a long distance Shittu free kick after it took a slight deflection.
Mali's effective use of the offside trap kept the Nigerian attack at bay particularly Yakubu who had an effort in the 79th minute ruled out for offside.
Keita's effort from 20 yards then grazed the crossbar in the 81st minute with Ejide well beaten.
|10||J. Obi Mikel|
|Coach: B. Vogts|
for O. Martins 46'
for P. Odemwingie 58'
for V. Obinna 84'
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