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By ESPN Staff

Mali prove they are force to be reckoned with

SEKONDI, Jan 26 (Reuters) - Mali proved they are a force to be reckoned with at the African Nations Cup on Friday following a creditable 0-0 draw against Nigeria.

Jean-Francois Jodar's team, who beat Benin 1-0 in their Group B opener, need a point to guarantee a quarter-final place in a tournament they did not even qualify for two years ago.

'We can be satisfied with the point we grabbed,' former France defender Jodar told reporters. 'The most important thing was not to lose so we still have all the cards in our hands.'

Mali face group leaders Ivory Coast in their final group match on Tuesday when Nigeria meet Benin in Sekondi. If Nigeria fail to win their match Mali will be in the last eight.

Against Nigeria they relied on a strong defence, marshalled by RC Lens centre back Adama Coulibaly, and a top-class midfield with Liverpool's Momo Sissoko, Sevilla's Seydou Keita and Real Madrid's Mahammadou Diarra harassing their opponents.

'Mali are a very, very tough team,' said Nigeria's German coach Berti Vogts, who led his own country to the 1996 European Championship title.

The Mali Eagles could have taken all three points when Seydou Keita's second-half rocket shot smashed against the bar.

The first goalless draw at this year's Nations Cup was arguably the best game of the tournament so far, with a lot of creativity in midfield and up front plus skilful defending.

Nigeria knew they had to win to keep their destiny in their own hands and entered the Essipon stadium with all guns blazing having started with four strikers.

'They risked their all because they needed to win and we put up a good fight defensively,' said Jodar. 'We managed to keep the ball, maybe a little bit too much in the first half.'

However, Frenchman Jodar knows big tournaments are often won by the team with the best defence.

'Some people in Mali say we have a bad defence. Well, we have conceded only one goal in our last seven games. I like this kind of bad defence,' he grinned.