The second Group B fixture in Port Elizabeth took a backseat to proceedings in Mali.
Canada has evacuated its staff from their embassy in Mali, urging any Canadians remaining in the country to leave now. A long running battle between Jihadist Islamists — redudant, yes — and government troops has picked up in recent weeks.
I won’t pretend to know what the hell I’m talking about here. That fourth year African politics seminar I took was a long time ago. An email to my professor in that course — James Milner, not that one — was bounced back. He’s on leave. Here’s what I know. Sport is used as an excuse to get away. A reason to think about something else for however long it lasts. Mali was an overwhelming favourite heading into the match. They did what they were supposed to do, beating Niger 1-0.
Twelve months ago the Malians claimed bronze at AFCON 2012 — Niger didn’t win a match. As neighbors, both nations have been affected by the slew of weapons and mercenaries that flooded the region after the NATO intervention in Libya.
The players knew the situation back home. Maliean defender Sigamary Diarra before the match:
“For now everything is going on fine. We have done well in preparing for the tournament and we feel set for kick off. However, our thoughts and hearts are focused on the situation in Mali. We are thinking of our families and the entire nation. We have faith that peace will return anytime soon, but we just can’t stop thinking of those back home.”
Former Barcelona man Seydou Keita’s capitalized on an error by Niger keeper Kassaly Daouda in the 84th minute. It was Keita’s first goal for the Eagles since last June and his sixth goal at the AFCON finals. They will go as far as he, Cheick Diabate, Mohamed Sissoko and Samba Diakité will take them.
Sport is the ultimate distraction. While this victory is a solid start for a team looking to contend, it would be hard to forget what is happening back in the real world. I’m in between hating on those who say this game gave Mali something to cheer about and those who criticized the game for taking place. The right answer, if there is one, lies somewhere in between. Mali recorded the first win of the AFCON 2013 tournament. The Defenders of the Faith movement have killed 60 Malian soldiers since January 10th, according to Alakhbar news agency.
Try reading those last two sentences without doing a double take. Mali take on Ghana next. The next distraction awaits.