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African Nations Comment: Mali Cry Foul But Only Have Themselves To Blame

Mali are unhappy that Algeria and Angola gained the draw they needed in order to progress to the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals on Monday.

Even with their 3-1 win over Malawi in the bag, the Eagles went out, as a result of their inferior head-to-head record against Algeria, to whom they lost 1-0.

The perception in the Mali ranks is that hosts Angola and Algeria engineered the scoreless draw in order to put both teams forward. Such sentiment is understandable, but perhaps not justifiable in the case of the Malians after a ramshackle tournament.

Quite simply, Stephen Keshi's side were a disaster-in-waiting from the moment of the first kick-off. There was a lack of coherence on the field and a lack of ideas on the bench. The likes of Mahmadou Diarra under-performed while tactically, Keshi was found wanting.

The damage to Mali's campaign was done long before they lined out against Malawi; both in their criminally inept display against Angola and their impotent, listless showing against Algeria. Two games played and one point gained is not championship form.

Scarcely one Malian has emerged from the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations with an augmented reputation; perhaps only Seydou Keita, of the reputable number among them, will escape unscathed. Indeed, the Barcelona man has made a convincing case for the captain's armband to be taken from the bicep of Diarra and placed with him.

Keita aside, the on-field failings of the Malians are evidence enough that the side should admit some of the culpability for their exit themselves, rather than burdening two teams, with nothing to lose in their actions, with some sort of conspiratorial blame.

Angola and Algeria have denied any wrongdoing. They both safeguarded a quarter-finals passage with their 0-0 draw; a game which bore all the hallmarks of caution and not conspiracy.

Algeria know what it feels like to be on the wrong end of an arranged result. In 1982, at the group stage, Les Fennecs had beaten West Germany to become the first African side to defeat a European team at a World Cup finals. However, a 1-0 victory for the Germans over Austria in the final group game would ensure that the two European sides would progress at the expense of the Desert Foxes.

That is exactly what happened, to the chagrin of the Algerians, and indeed, the football world at large. The encounter has gone down in the annals of time as the Shame of Gijon. The opportunity for retribution exacted in a similar vein was certainly there yesterday for Rabah Saadane's side. However, the benefit of doubt will be given to the north Africans, who exercised understandable caution, given that a calamitous goalkeeper stands behind a shaky back three or four.

Angola too were unlikely to take unnecessary risks, knowing that leaving their back-door open would leave them on the cusp of a premature exit. With a home crowd to satiate, that was never likely. Also, with that, Manuel Jose will no doubt relish another clean sheet after an opening day horror.

The Black Antelopes have done well to convince the observers that they are a team of substance and not bluster following their powder-puff capitulation against Mali on day one. Jose's side can now rank themselves as one of the favourites for this year's crown, certainly if they can regain their injured number. Flavio has been revelatory and the consistency of Chara and Gilberto must be admired.

The true losers from Group A are the Flames of Malawi, who flickered in the limelight of matchday one but have since faded meekly. No doubt, the likes of Peter Mpondo and Joseph Kamwendo are set for bigger and better things and Malawian football will have grown exponentially as a result of the signs of promise shown here. Perhaps it is a tournament too soon for the Flames; time will tell.

Whatever their destiny, they played their part in a gruelling and interesting first pool of teams.