Massadio Haidara’s early goal set Mali on their way to a comfortable 2-0 victory over Mauritania and top spot in Africa Cup of Nations Group F.
Haidara scored the fastest goal of the tournament as he netted after 92 seconds, before Mali added a second via the penalty spot through striker Ibrahima Kone, who scored for the third game in a row.
Mali finished the group stage with seven points, ahead of second-placed Gambia on goal difference. They were joined in the second round by Tunisia after the north Africans finished as one of the best third-placed sides.
Mali meet Equatorial Guinea in the second round in Limbe on Wednesday. They are seeking a first Cup of Nations trophy win having finished runners-up the last time the tournament was played in Cameroon in 1972.
Mauritania offered little in attack and even when trailing by two goals seemed hesitant to come forward.
They allowed Mali to play in first gear for much of the match and while it was certainly not a vintage performance from Mohamed Magassoubas side, he will be pleased with their efficiency.
They settled their nerves early on when Moussa Doumbia’s cross from the right found an unmarked Massadio Haidara at the back post and he steered the ball past Mauritania goalkeeper Babacar Diop.
Diop made a smart save from close-range to deny Kone as Mali kept on the pressure without reward, and it took until shortly after halftime for them to get their second.
They were awarded a penalty when Doumbia was upended in the box by Mauritania substitute Souleymane Karamoko.
Kone converted a powerful spot-kick for his third goal of the tournament, all of them penalties.
AFCON 2021 round-of-16 fixtures and results
Sunday January 23
Game 1: Burkina Faso vs Gabon, 4pm (Limbe Stadium, Limbe) – Live on Sky Sports Football
Game 2: Nigeria vs Group B/E/F third-place, 7pm (Roumde Adjia Stadium, Garoua) – Live on Sky Sports Mix
Monday January 24
Game 3: Guinea vs Group F runner-up, 4pm (Kouekong Stadium, Bafoussam) – Live on Sky Sports Football
Game 4: Cameroon vs Group C/D/E third-place, 7pm (Olembe Stadium, Yaounde) – Live on Sky Sports Premier League
Tuesday January 25
Game 5: Senegal vs Cape Verde, 4pm (Kouekong Stadium, Bafoussam) – Live on Sky Sports Football
Game 6: Morocco vs Malawi, 7pm (Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo, Yaounde) – Live on Sky Sports Football
Wednesday January 26
Game 7: Group E winner vs Egypt, 4pm (Japoma Stadium, Douala) – Live on Sky Sports Football
Game 8: Group F winner vs Group E runner-up, 7pm (Limbe Stadium, Limbe) – Live on Sky Sports Premier League
Sky Sports to show AFCON live
The Africa Cup of Nations tournament will be broadcast live on Sky Sports in January and February.
The tournament, originally scheduled to be played in June and July 2021, will be played in Cameroon between January 9 and February 6, 2022, with Sky Sports showing all 52 games live.
Twenty-four teams will take part, kicking off on January 9 as hosts Cameroon host Burkina Faso in Yaounde, before culminating in the final on February 6 in the capital.
Source : Sky Sports