ACCRA (AFP) - Didier Drogba marked his 50th international cap with a goal to help Ivory Coast beat Mali 3-0 here Tuesday to finish the opening round of the African Nations Cup as Group B leaders.
With qualification to the last eight already in the bag Ivory Coast were intent on finishing top of the table with a perfect nine points to avoid hosts Ghana in the quarter-finals.
And goals from Drogba, Benfica's Marc Zoro and Boubacar Sanogo accomplished the mission to leave them facing Group A runners up Guinea in Sekondi on Sunday.
For Mali, who have never lifted the continental crown, it was time to say goodbye to Ghana after Nigeria secured the other last eight ticket on offer from Group B with victory over Benin up in Sekondi.
Drogba, who was taken off before the end, said: "We've qualified well but there's a hard quarter-final ahead for us. Guinea aren't there by accident."
Coach Gerard Gili added: "This win will stand us in good stead, with a tough quarter-final coming up.
"Thanks to the individuality and experience of some of the players we won well."
Mali coach Jean-Francois Jolar tipped Ivory Coast to go all the way. "We lost to a strong and complete team, they have everything to win the title."
Explaining the non-appearance of star striker Fredi Kanoute for the second half he said: "Unfortunately Fredi was injured, it was a big blow. Another blow was Adama Coulibaly, who became ill.
"I'm very disappointed that we didn't play well in the first half, we didn't take risks in attack, we didn't manage to impose in midfield."
The Ivory Coast's injured Arsenal full back Kolo Toure was one of five changes Gili made from the side that beat Benin to clinch their place in the quarter-finals.
Momo Sissoko, back from signing his new contract with Juventus, started on the bench.
Mali were without suspended Real Madrid midfielder and skipper Mahamadou Diarra, Greece-based Bassala Toure inheriting the captain's armband.
With one point each a mutually convenient result for these west African neighbours Mali were at pains to rule out any type of 'deal' to engineer a draw in the pre-match build-up.
Parity might have suited Drogba too, given that his wife is Malian, but he risked a frosty reception at home when putting the Ivorians into a ninth minute lead.
The team's talisman ran on to Yaya Toure's pass and slotted the ball right-footed past Mali keeper Mahamadou Sidibe from the left of the area.
That was his second of the competition and it marked in a fitting way his 50th cap.
A goal down so soon left Mali with only one option, and it wasn't to defend, yet Drogba and his men were in dominant mode and almost had a second on 18 minutes only for Zoro to miscue his header into an open goal.
Down at the other end Fredi Kanoute only narrowly failed to get his head to a well targeted 30 yard free kick as Mali went for the all important equaliser.
Mali's Adama Tamboura then picked up a yellow card for a heavy tackle on Drogba, who is only now coming back to full match fitness after his December knee surgery.
Jolar then took off Kanoute for the second half, replacing the Sevilla striker with Sissoko, a midfielder.
Any notion these regional mates might help each other out were dispelled when the Ivorians went further ahead in the 53rd minute, Benfica defender Zoro heading in Kader Keita's corner from the left.
On the hour Jolar replaced Toure with Mahamadou Dissa as he attempted to strengthen his attacking options.
Mali went close to pulling one back when Seydou Keita floated the ball into the area only for Dramane Traore's angled header to hit the crossbar.
Drogba, having done his stuff, came off with quarter of an hour to go and five minutes later Sanogo pounced on a rebound to complete the Ivorians' three star victory.
|Coach: G. Gili|
for A. Keïta 59'
for D. Drogba 75'
|Hoeness plays down Bayern treble suggestions|
|Dzeko confident he can fill Aguero void|
|Moyes: No loan offers for Zaha|
|Kiessling calls for Leverkusen response|
|Matuidi: Cavani on par with Ibrahimovic|
|Yeboah set to join Borussia Monchengladbach|
|Rooney a ´chance´ to face West Ham|
|FIFA Club World Cup Preview: Bayern Munich v Raja Casablanca|
|Benzarti praises ´extremely talented´ Raja Casablanca|
|Ranieri unsure over Falcao return|
|Coupe de La Ligue Wrap: Cavani leads PSG to dramatic win|
|Copa del Rey Wrap: Real Madrid through as Sevilla crash out|
|Tottenham job appeals to Sherwood|
|Sherwood gutted after defeat|
|Hughes: United worthy winners|
|Moyes pleased to see United weather storm|
|Allardyce hails West Ham fight|
|Coppa Italia: Juventus 3 Avellino 0|
|Manchester clubs kept apart in League Cup semi draw|
|League Cup: Tottenham 1 West Ham 2|
|League Cup: Stoke City 0 Manchester United 2|
|FIFA Club World Cup: Raja Casablanca 3 Atletico Mineiro 1|
|Sheffield Wednesday, Wigan abandoned due to heavy rain|
|United face anxious Rooney wait over injury|
|Messi making good progress|
|Ramos ban overturned|
|Osvaldo charged by FA|
|In-demand Ince offered new Blackpool deal|
|Molde confirm Solskjaer approaches|
|Kramer keen to continue home record|
|Rodgers: Henderson has potential to get even better|
|Ruiz on Anderlecht´s radar|
|Swansea, Hull fined by FA over player behaviour|
|Leeds keen on re-signing Gradel|
|Leverkusen announce Ryu deal|
|Ribery named Bundesliga Player of the Year|
|Moyes: No Zaha interest|
|Barcelona, Real Madrid in European Commission investigation|
|Basel: No Tottenham approach for Yakin|
|Chelsea set for Guarin bid, agent claims|
|Lewandowski has Dortmund goal concerns|
|Pogba, Pirlo will not sign before Christmas, says Marotta|
|Guardiola convinced to join Bayern after ´meat´ and greet|
|Martinez: Everton seen as a ´perfect´ loan destination|
|Anderlecht ´perfect´ for Defour, says Van Holsbeeck|
|Watford appoint Sannino|
|Sakho feels ´lucky´ to play with Suarez|
|Lippi: Too many teams competing in Club World Cup|
|Moyes ´told Welbeck to learn from Rooney´|
|I would kill myself over match-fixing, says Gattuso|
|Hughes dismisses calls for Januzaj protection|
|Aguero ´could miss up to two months´|
|Guardiola lauds Ballon d´Or nominee Ribery|
|Liverpool open Suarez contract talks|
|Copa del Rey Wrap: Barcelona, Levante cruise through|
|A-League Preview: Derby date beckons for winless Heart|
|Pearson upbeat despite Leicester defeat|
|Poyet urges Sunderland to build on Chelsea win|
|Mourinho rues missed chances|
|Pellegrini proud of professional Manchester City|
|Bayern on another level, says Beckenbauer|
|League Cup: Sunderland 2 Chelsea 1 (aet)|
|League Cup: Leicester City 1 Manchester City 3|
|FIFA Club World Cup: Guangzhou Evergrande 0 Bayern Munich 3|
|Zenit and Olympiacos punished with partial stadium closures|
|Sherwood wants positive reaction|
|Ancelotti expected La Liga title fight|
|Moffat charged over betting allegations|
|Wilson appointed at Barnsley|
|Wilshere charged by FA|
|Gattuso determined to clear his name|
|Moyes slams sacking culture|
|Mackay refuses to resign despite owner criticism|
|Redknapp reluctant to take Taarabt back|
|Amat pleased with development|
|Hughes optimistic of League Cup progression|
|Perez: No bids for Di Maria|
|FIFPro demand transfer system overhaul|
|Edwards sacked by Perth Glory|
|Allardyce not fearing the sack|
|Howson commits to Norwich|
|Tevez resigned to Argentina snub|
|SFA uphold Butcher´s one-match ban|
|Zapata rules out United switch|
|European Ombudsman calls for action on Spanish tax complaint|
|Albrighton eyes new Villa deal|
|Bale to miss Copa del Rey clash with ´small injury´|
|Pardew will bide his time in January|
|Kreuzer confident of Hamburg improvement|
|Van der Sar: Moyes can turn United around|
|Maradona backs Ronaldo for Ballon d´Or|
|Tottenham warned off Klinsmann|
|Costa Rica Primera Division: Alajuelense 0 Herediano 0|
|Lyon wary of Chornomorets Odesa|
|Guardiola talks up Lippi, Evergrande|
|Chile Primera Division Wrap: Chile, Deportes Iquique reach final|
|Garcia laments defensive mistakes|
|La Liga: Real Valladolid 3 Celta Vigo 0|