Mali came from behind against the Democratic Republic of the Congo to earn a 1-1 draw that ensures that they reach the knockout round of the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations as Group B runners up.
With Congo knowing that only a win would do, they opened the game in aggressive style, which nearly paid immediate dividends when Lomana LuaLua crashed an angled shot off Mamadou Samassa's left-hand post with the goalkeeper well beaten.
But the Leopards were not to be denied, and they opened the scoring moments later after Yves-Diba Ilunga burst into the box and Mohamed Sissoko upended him with an ill-conceived challenge. Referee Djamel Haimoudi pointed straight to the spot, and Deiudonne Mbokani notched his second penalty of the tournament with an unstoppable effort blasted straight into the top corner.
But Congolese joy was short-lived, as it was Mali's turn to attack. The West Africans wanted a draw and reacted brightly to going behind, and it took just ten minutes for them to draw level. Superb work by left back Adama Tamboura resulted in an inviting cross for Mamadou Samassa*, and he made no mistake in sidefooting past Muteba Kidiaba for the equaliser.
*A different one.
After being stunned by Congo early, Mali were doing their best to keep the game quiet, restricting their opponents chances by holding the ball deep in their own half. That meant for a pretty dull game, although Samassa nearly got his second after the break when Kidiaba made a meal his long-range strike and saw it bobble just wide of the post.
At the other end of the pitch, the Leopards responded with something much closer to a chance when Youssouf Mulumbu found space to shoot from just outside the penalty area and drew a fantastic save out of Samassa, who had to get down to his left to tip the low effort just wide of the post.
Mali then got some bad news when Sissoko limped off with what looked like a leg injury, forcing a substitution that coincided with a far more expansive game. Congo attacked with more vigour, but at the other end of the pitch Kalilou Traore and Samba Diakité both rattled the woodwork in a matter of seconds as Mali took advantage of their opponents committing numbers forward.
Ultimately, it was Mali who did what it took to escape from the group as they defended well enough to keep the Leopards from coming particularly close to getting the goal they so desperately needed.