Angola, Algeria advance to Cup of Nations quarters
Angola and World Cup qualifiers Algeria have joined holders Egypt and Ivory Coast in the Africa Cup of Nations quarter-finals.
A goalless draw played out to another 50,000 capacity crowd at Luanda's 11 November stadium put both teams inito the last eight mix, at the expense of Mali and Malawi.
While the hosts and the Desert Foxes are still in contention day nine of this feast of African football proved the end of the road for Chelsea's star midfielder Michael Essien.
Ghana's best player hobbled out of contention for Tuesday's make or break Group B date with Burkina Faso after picking up a knee injury in training over the weekend.
This latest setback represented a cruel blow not only to Ghana, who are already bereft of a raft of first team players, and also Essien, who had just returned to fitness after an injury he picked up playing for his club in the Champions League in December.
Essien's 2010 Nations Cup is over and he is due to return to Stamford Bridge for treatment, leaving Ghana with a tough job on their hands as they must defeat Burkina Faso to avoid a first round KO.
Angola finished top of Group A with five points after sharing the spoils with Algeria, who took the runners-up spot by dint of their head-to-head record with Mali.
Mali inflicted a 3-1 defeat on Malawi up in Cabinda but the result was rendered meaningless by the draw in Luanda, leaving Mali's 2007 Africa Footballer of the year Frederic Kanoute distraught.
"I can't find the words to describe how upset I am," said Sevilla's 2007 Africa Footballer of the Year, who was the first non-Africa-born player to win the award.
"It really hurts me that after we were knocked out in 2008 we really wanted to do well here.
"For my last appearance in this competition I wanted to go as far as possible."
Angola manager Manuel Jose was in a far happier frame of mind after overseeing the Black Antelope's best ever first round showing in the Nations Cup.
Monday's game started at a breathless pace but after the break degenerated into a cagey affair with both sides desperate not to make a mistake which could scupper their Cup campaign.
Angola now progress to face the runners-up of Group B - either Ivory Coast, Ghana or Burkina Faso, in their Luanda fortress on Sunday, with Algeria taking on the Group B winners in Cabinda the same day.
"We were nervous in the first half, and had a great chance but couldn't score," said Jose.
"Then we heard at half time that Mali were leading in Cabinda so in the second half we tried to minimise the risk of defeat. It wasn't good for the fans but we had to avoid risks, our main objective was to qualify."
He said the absence of key players Flavio and Dede and the suspended Stelvio had had a major bearing on the game.
"The return of players like Flavio will be fundamental to us. Our task now is to get them back for the quarter-final."
Algeria coach Rabah Saadane railed at a suggestiion from a Mali reporter at the post-match press conference that the draw had been rigged at Mali's expense.
"Don't come out with that sort of question, I don't accept at all that this was a fixed match and that we had some sort of agreement with the Angolan team to play for a draw," said Saadane, who was assistant coach at the 1982 World Cup when Algeria were victims of the infamous draw between Austria and the then West Germany which saw those two neighbours progress to the second round at their expense.
"It's part of soccer, you have to manage a match and look for ways of avoiding defeat."