Niger and DR Congo ended their second group match in a goalless draw at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth on Thursday, with the west Africans picking up their first point in the finals of an Africa Cup of Nations.
Both teams were meeting each other for the first time in their history. Niger coach Gernot Rohr retained the squad that lost 1-0 to Mali on Sunday during their opener.
The first goal chance of the game fell to the Mena just five minutes from kickoff when Modibo Sidibe was set up on the right side of the DR Congo area, but the free agent, after side stepping goalkeeper Muteba Kidiaba, missed his target after a low effort to the far right of the second post.
Anderlecht’s Dieumerci Mbokani was at the head of the Leopards’ attack, with TP Mazembe’s Tresor Mputu and Lomana LuaLua providing clever assists that remained fruitless in front of the Niger goal, thanks to Kourouma Fatogoma of Moroccan side Chabab and home-based Issiakou Koudize, who were toiling to keep their goal safe from attacks.
Mbokani surged into the Niger box after perfectly controlling a ball with the chest, but floated his effort into the gloves of Daouda Kassali, missing a good chance to put his side ahead in the 12th minute.
The west Africans were putting up a terrific fight against the Congolese – a sharp contrast to their showing against Mali on Sunday – but kept failing to deliver a convincing finish, as the Congolese were futile in exploiting the gaps left by their opponents, which generally presented a very balanced team.
An interplay between Congolese duo Lualua and Mbokani near the box could have beaten Kassali at the post but a last-ditch interception by Koudize thwarted the beautiful effort.
By the 40th minute, the Leopards were still slightly ahead in ball possession but lacking solutions to break the deadlock and coach Claude Le Roy was exhibiting his anxiety on the touchline.
Mbokani had another clear cut chance to score again Niger when a long ball from the right flank released him to the left edge of the Mena box unmarked, but he once again crashed his effort against the keeper Daouda Kassali and slumped down to rue his third slip of the meeting as the referee put an end to the first half.
Niger returned from the break still in a combative mood, with captain Moussa Maazou finding himself in the Leopards box a couple of times and forcing two breathtaking saves from Kidiaba, while hitting his third close-range effort over the bar.
Alain Kaluyituka replaced Patou Kabangu and Zola Matumona, Tresor Mputu for the DR Congo, as Le Roy continued the search for the rightful solution to surmount the Nigerien hurdle.
The Mena maintained their ascendancy in the second half, with Modibo and Maazou on target upfront as the Leopards turned gradually nervous being unable to break the stalemate.
Kasusula Kiritsho saved his side from a nasty goal in the last quarter when he stopped Maazou’s lightning penetration into the box as both sides seemed to have settled for a goalless fate near the end of the clash when efforts from the teams were losing intensity and inspiration.
Boubacar Talatou connected a cross from the right and strolled into DR Congo midfield before laying a ball for Issoufou Dante, who fired towards Kadiaba, but the Mazembe veteran palmed away to avoid a late goal.
The score stood at 0-0 by the end of the whistle, handing Niger their first ever point in an Africa Cup of Nations finals, and leaving DR Congo on two. Ghana top the group with four points, while Mali have three.