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Mali edges out Niger with narrow win

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PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa (AP)

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Seydou Keita's perseverance brought Mali a 1-0 win over Niger at the African Cup of Nations on Sunday when the skipper pounced on a late goalkeeper mistake to give the currently troubled West African nation the first victory of the tournament.

The Group B match was heading for the fourth straight draw of the African Cup before Keita poked home after Niger `keeper Kassaly Daouda spilled a cross in the midst of a bunch of players in the 84th minute.

After the game, Keita wore a white t-shirt with the words ''Peace for Mali'' spelled out in red letters in French when he received his man of the match award.

Niger had been resilient at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, but Mali had earlier chances to win as Keita's fierce drive in the 54th was just saved by Daouda and the skipper then hit the crossbar in the 77th - this time with Niger's goalkeeper beaten.

Between Keita's chances, substitute Mahamadou Samassa broke open the Niger defense with his trickery and thudded a shot into the side netting. Mahamane Traore missed badly with a free header before Keita finally got his goal and the first triumph of the cup for a country torn by conflict.

Keita's left-foot shot from distance 10 minutes into the second half kicked off a period of prolonged pressure from the Malians, which finally paid off when Keita was perfectly placed to score from Daouda's mistake.

The goalkeeper was on his knees with his head in his hands after the decisive error.

Niger launched occasional counterattacks but tried to defend for much of the 90 minutes in the hope of gaining a point from its opening game.

Forward Mohamed Soumalia had one of the few chances for Niger but couldn't connect properly with a cross just before Keita's goal.

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