Mali meet Ghana hoping to repeat history Ref admits mistake, Pitroipa set to play in final

JOHANNESBURG, Feb 8, (Agencies):  Mali hope history is repeated when they face Ghana on Saturday for the bronze medals at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations tournament. Ghana defeated Mali 2-0 in the first round of the 2012 championship only for the losers to bounce back and win the third-place play-off by the identical score thanks to a Cheick Tidiane Diabate brace. A Mubarak Wakaso penalty earned Ghana a 1-0 win over Mali in the first round of this year’s edition at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium in Port Elizabeth and that is where the teams play again this weekend with the Eagles seeking revenge. These play-offs are usually decided in favour of the team that carries less psychological baggage into the game, and Mali were clearly more up for the battle in Equatorial Guinea a year ago.

This time, though, both teams are hurting after Mali were thrashed 4-1 by rampant Nigeria in Durban and Ghana lost on penalties to surprise package Burkina Faso in Nelspruit after a controversial 1-1 draw.
In a swift reaction to a number of strange decisions, including a soft penalty to Ghana and the harsh red carding of Burkina Faso star Jonathan Pitroipa, Tunisian referee Slim Jdidi has been suspended indefinitely. Mali captain and talisman Seydou Keita believes his Eagles failed to soar against Nigeria because the players did not work together like they had done in ousting hosts South Africa 2-1 in the quarter-finals. But the former Barcelona player warned against finger pointing in the Malian camp as they try to win for the second time in five bronze-medal play-offs with the losses coming against Nigeria (twice) and Ivory Coast.

“Blaming other people is a waste of time and takes us nowhere,” stressed the 33-year-old competing at his sixth Cup of Nations, having made his debut when Mali hosted the 2002 tournament. “We did well against South Africa because we played as a team. We did not play well against Nigeria and there must be a collective sharing of the responsibility for that failure.” Ghana have reached the semifinals at the last four tournaments, but made the final only once, meaning they have become frequent competitors in a third-place match, every footballer wants to avoid. Captain Asamoah Gyan offered a brave front: “We are very down, naturally, but we must lift ourselves for the sake of our nation. It is not the match we wanted to be involved in this weekend, but there are medals at stake.”

No Black Star has more to play for than Wakaso, a find of this tournament and joint leading scorer with Nigerian Emmanuel Emenike on four goals as the race for the Golden Boot award goes down to the final two matches. Burkina Faso’s star striker Jonathan Pitroipa, who picked up a red card in Wednesday’s semifinal, is set to play in Sunday’s Africa Cup of Nations final after all. For Pitroipa to be able to take part the referee in Wednesday’s game had to admit he had made a mistake in booking the player for a second time for diving, something Tunisian Slim Jdidi has now done, CAf president Issa Hayatou said.

“Everyone realised that this referee did not officiate well,” Hayatou announced here on Friday. “They’ve told me the referee has sent a letter saying he got it wrong. “From this moment, the CAF executive committee will pass on the matter to the disciplinary commission, who will announce their decision today (Friday). “The referee admitted his error in his report given to the (CAF) secretary general (Hicham El Amrani) — he recognised that he had got it wrong.” Jdidi’s admission that he had erred paves the way for the red card to be rescinded and for Pitroipa to take his place in the Burkina Faso side to face Nigeria at Soccer City on Sunday. Pitroipa produced the only goal in the 1-0 extra-time quarter-final win over Togo. He has helped lighten the blow of the Burkinabe losing their best striker Alain Traore to injury. Jdidi, who has been suspended for his poor performance in Wednesday’s game, sent off the Rennes forward in the 117th minute of the game that Burkina won on penalties against Ghana.

Zambia coach Herve Renard has been warned and his federation handed a suspended $10,000 fine by African soccer’s governing body for disparaging comments made about the Nelspruit pitch during the African Nations Cup. The Confederaton of African Football (CAF) took issue with Renard’s criticism of the Mbombela Stadium pitch, which had to be covered in sand after being ravaged by a fungus following heavy rain a week before the finals leaving it boggy in patches and bone hard elsewhere.

“The organising committee accepted an apology from the coach. However, to ensure non-repetition of such behaviour that tarnishes the image of CAF and its officials, the committee decided to issue a warning to Mr Renard and fine Zambia,” a CAF statement said. Reigning champions Zambia, who played all their group games at the Mbombela Stadium, suffered the ignominy of being the first African Nations Cup holders to go out in the first round in defence of their title since Algeria in 1992. The pitch in Nelspruit has been the subject of much controversy over the last few weeks and Renard is not the only coach to have criticised its condition.

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