MUBARAK Wakaso scored a first-half penalty as Ghana took a big stride towards the quarter-finals of the African Nations Cup when they beat Mali 1-0 on Thursday.
The 22-year-old converted the 38th minute kick to take Ghana above Mali in the Group B standings with four points from their opening two matches with a final group game against Niger to come in Port Elizabeth on Monday.
Wakaso was immediately booked after scoring for displaying a religious slogan when he lifted up his jersey to reveal "Allah is Great" emblazoned on his t-shirt.
It was his second yellow of the tournament and he will now miss Ghana's third group match against Niger on Monday.
The win was fully deserved after the Black Stars out-played the team who had beaten them to third place at the last finals in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon one year ago.
Emmanuel Agyemang Badu was a powerful presence in midfield and was at the heart Ghana's success. His run into the opposing area led to the penalty, just minutes after he had struck the upright with a header from Wakaso's free kick.
Ghana's Mubarak Wakaso celebrates his goal against Mali
"We sought to try and change the tactics for an opponent with a different style of play," said Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah. "It proved successful."
It might have been a different story, however, had the Ivorian referee, Noumandiez Doue, shown a red card when Ghana goalkeeper Fatau Dauda handled just outside his area in the sixth minute.
Dauda slipped as he tried to claim the ball ahead of Mali's captain Seydou Keita and handled the ball on the ground, but escaped with a yellow card.
"I don't understand why the referee did not do his responsibility," said Mali coach Patrice Carteron.
Ghana dominated having made changes to their team after conceding a two-goal lead to draw their opening game against Democratic Republic of Congo on Sunday.
"We have to admit that Ghana was better than us today but we still have a last game to come," Carteron added.
"I'm sad for the players because we wanted to do better but we still have three points. We have no time to be disappointed now, we must prepare for the next game."
Mali, who beat Niger in their Group B opener, meet the Democratic Republic of Congo in their last match in Durban.
Goalless draw blights chances for Niger, DR Congo
Niger and Democratic Republic of Congo battled to a goalless stalemate in an evenly-fought Group B match on Thursday which did neither team any favours in their quest to reach the quarter-finals of the African Nations Cup.
Although Niger secured their first ever point in the finals after losing all three games in 2012 and their opening match here, the result at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium left Ghana top after two matches with four points, followed by Mali (3), DR Congo (2) and Niger (1).
Democratic Republic of Congo's Landry Mulemo is tackled by Niger's Issiaka Koudize
Niger should have taken the lead after four minutes when Modibo Sidibe was put through with only goalkeeper Robert Kidiaba to beat but he missed his chance by firing his angled shot against the base of Kidiaba's far post.
Niger goalkeeper Daouda Kassaly kept his side in the match with two outstanding first half saves, the first after 13 minutes from Dieumerci Mbokani and the second three minutes before the break when he somehow blocked a close-range shot from the centre forward who looked certain to score.
Ghana face Niger in their final group game in Port Elizabeth on Monday while the Congolese face Mali in Durban.