Mali and Ivory Coast settled for a goalless in their matchday four clash of the 2018 Fifa World Cup qualifiers on Friday.
In the absence of Wilfried Zaha and Seydou Doumbia, both sidelined due to injury, Jonathan Kodjia of Aston Villa manned the attacking line for Ivory Coast while Mali had Moussa Doumbia and Adama Niane up field at the packed full Stade du 26 Mars in Bamako.
From the blast of the whistle, the Eagles appeared to have more determination than the visitors, whereas Mali had only two points coming into the meeting with little chance of qualifying.
Niane was released to the left of the Ivorian area in the opening exchange but after dropping deep in search of a breach he was dispossessed by Serge Aurier, who multiplied similar action at his post to keep his side safe from early havoc by the 15th minute.
Moments later, Souleymane Diarra powered a solo run and after crossing the median line he connected Adama Traore, who failed to link up with a yellow shirt in the Ivorian box.
The Elephants improved in pace by the 20th minute and began to prove dangerous mostly from the flanks, with Gnaly Maxwell Cornet slipping behind defenders Hamari Traore and Mamadou Fofana to create chances for Kodjia and Serey Die, but the Malians dealt with the menace.
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By the half hour mark, the hosts were once more on the ascendancy as if they were playing an Africa Cup of Nations final. Men were pouring forth and they soon besieged the Ivorian area but remained wasteful in front of goal.
Manchester United defender Eric Bailly thwarted a couple of goal efforts from the Malians, incurring a yellow card in the process, while goalkeeper Sylvain Gbohouo was called to duty four times, pulling off saves.
However, the score board remained locked at a goalless draw by the break.
Back from recess, coach Marc Wilmots introduced BSC Young Boys midfielder Sekou Junior Sanogo for Die.
Mali resumed with more vim and kept control of proceedings while Ivory Coast retreated more on the defensive.
Niane broke loose after claiming a long pass from Youssouf Kone and superbly skipped past two defenders before unleashing an effort from the edge of the box which floated narrowly off the post.
Niane was later replaced by Kalifa Coulibaly following an injury scare. Coulibaly hit the ground running, blasting a long-range strike but it went above the Ivorian crossbar.
The 2015 Afcon champions lacked a clear construction in midfielder, with no solid link between the defence and attack.
On the other hand, Mali were failing to deliver a quality final ball to break the stalemate despite their decent spells of possession. Mali had a free kick outside the Ivorian box, which was well executed but it floated into goalkeeper Gbohouo’s gloves.
Immediately after, the danger shifted to the other end, with former Chelsea winger Salomon Kalou, who replaced Roger Asale after the break, lunging into the Eagles’ box but goalkeeper Djigui Diarra parried for a corner-kick. The visitors obtained two successive corners that yielded nothing. By the final whistle, the scoreline remained goalless. A good test match for Mali, who are practically out of the campaign, but poor for the Ivorians, who will have to wait for the final matchday next month when they play host to Morocco, to see if they could claimed a fourth consecutive qualification to a Fifa World Cup.
Ivory Coast remain leaders of Group C with 8 points while Mali are at 3. However, Morocco, who currently boast of 6 points, could move to top if they account for Gabon on Saturday in Casablanca.