Gyan steers Ghana into Cup of Nations quarter-finals

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Ghana's forward Andre Ayew (L) heads the ball with Mali's midfielder Mamoutou N'Diaye during the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations group D football match between Ghana and Mali in Port-Gentil on January 21, 2017. 
Justin TALLIS / AFP
Ghana’s forward Andre Ayew (L) heads the ball with Mali’s midfielder Mamoutou N’Diaye during the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations group D football match between Ghana and Mali in Port-Gentil on January 21, 2017.
Justin TALLIS / AFP
(L-R) Ghana's forward Asamoah Gyan, Ghana's defender Harrison Afful and Ghana's defender Daniel Amartey celebrate at the end of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations group D football match between Ghana and Mali in Port-Gentil on January 21, 2017. 
Justin TALLIS / AFP
(L-R) Ghana’s forward Asamoah Gyan, Ghana’s defender Harrison Afful and Ghana’s defender Daniel Amartey celebrate at the end of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations group D football match between Ghana and Mali in Port-Gentil on January 21, 2017.
Justin TALLIS / AFP
Algerian referee Mehdi Abid Charef (R) tries to disperse players as they argue during the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations group D football match between Ghana and Mali in Port-Gentil on January 21, 2017. 
Justin TALLIS / AFP
Algerian referee Mehdi Abid Charef (R) tries to disperse players as they argue during the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations group D football match between Ghana and Mali in Port-Gentil on January 21, 2017.
Justin TALLIS / AFP
Mali's midfielder Yacouba Sylla (L) heads the ball with Ghana's midfielder Christian Atsu during the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations group D football match between Ghana and Mali in Port-Gentil on January 21, 2017. 
Justin TALLIS / AFP
Mali’s midfielder Yacouba Sylla (L) heads the ball with Ghana’s midfielder Christian Atsu during the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations group D football match between Ghana and Mali in Port-Gentil on January 21, 2017.
Justin TALLIS / AFP

Ghana secured their place in the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations as Asamoah Gyan’s goal was enough for them to beat Mali 1-0 in Port-Gentil on Saturday.

On an appalling playing surface, Gyan headed home from Jordan Ayew’s cross in the 21st minute to score his eighth goal at the Cup of Nations over six consecutive tournaments going back to 2008.

With two wins from two matches in Group D, 2015 runners-up the Black Stars are certain of another appearance in the knockout stage of a tournament they have won four times.

Mali have just one point but are not out of it yet, while Egypt and Uganda meet in the other Group D game later.

The state of the pitch meant the teams were not allowed to use it for their pre-game warm-ups, instead being forced to do use an indoor facility.

The surface did not lend itself to a flowing game of football, but at least the sizeable Malian community in this Gabonese port city made for a raucous atmosphere.

Sadly for them, Ghana initially coped better on the pitch and they should have been in front in the 17th minute.

The standout performer at the last Cup of Nations, Christian Atsu did brilliantly on the right before delivering a low ball to the near post which Jordan Ayew would surely have converted.

However, Andre Ayew took the ball off the feet of his younger brother and stabbed a shot wide.

Nevertheless, Avram Grant’s men were ahead before the midway point in the first period as Jordan Ayew crossed from the right and captain Gyan rose unmarked to head past Oumar Sissoko in the Mali goal.

The Ghana players celebrated by running across to the bench and holding up t-shirts with a message of support for left-back Abdul Rahman Baba, whose tournament was ended by a serious knee injury in the opening win against Uganda.

Sissoko did well to save a Jordan Ayew cross-cum-shot that bounced awkwardly in front of him and Mali then came out with greater purpose after the break.

Just as in their opening goalless draw with Egypt, the introduction of exciting young Lille midfielder Yves Bissouma gave them an extra impetus.

Despite that, they could not find an equalising goal, with Moussa Marega heading straight at Razak Brimah from a Bakary Sako cross and defender Salif Coulibaly hooking a shot just wide after Ghana had struggled to clear their lines.

Ghana were hanging on right until the end, with goalkeeper Razak making a fine reaction save to deny substitute Kalifa Coulibaly from point-blank range in the 90th minute and then beating away a Sako volley in injury time.

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