PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa (AP) – Congo and Niger played out a goalless draw at the African Cup of Nations on Thursday to let Mali and Ghana off the hook and leave the two favored teams at the top of Group B heading to the final round of games.
A win for Congo would have put pressure on both, especially Mali, but crucial saves from Niger goalkeeper Kassaly Daouda ensured Claude Le Roy's team couldn't break through at Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.
''Yes, we missed our chances in the first half,'' Le Roy said, agreeing the result was a missed opportunity. ''After that, we didn't play well. We have to be honest.''
Niger had its best period early in the second half when captain Moussa Maazou threatened three times in a six-minute spell.
Congo should have been well ahead by then, only Daouda pulled off a diving one-handed save and a close-range block to twice deny striker Dieumerci Mbokani in the first half - redeeming himself after his mistake gifted Mali victory in Niger's first game.
Niger had one final chance deep in stoppage time as Muteba Kidiaba dived to his left to push away a shot and prevent a last-gasp goal that would have been cruel on Congo, which was wasteful but still enterprising.
The draw leaves Ghana top on four points after a 1-0 victory over Mali earlier Thursday. Mali has three points, Congo two and Niger one.
''We are still in the competition,'' Niger coach Gernot Rohr said.
But only just.
Congo forward Mbokani was left exasperated after blowing the best chances, holding his head in his hands, punching the ground and regularly looking anguished after his misses.
In a game Congo was expected to be far too good in, Niger was surprisingly and instantly competitive when Sidibe Modibo hit the post in the fourth minute with a curling shot across.
Congo did carve Niger open in the 13th minute as Mbokani was alone deep in the penalty area from a cross and could control and shoot, forcing a super one-handed save from Daouda.
As the game swung back and forth, Mohamed Soumalia latched onto an error from Congo's initially shaky defense, but pushed a shot from distance out to the right.
Congo had a second clear chance when the ball fell kindly for Yousuf Mulumbu from a rebound in the 35th minute. His side-footed shot went some way wide of the right post with Daouda's goal exposed.
Daouda was becoming a priceless player for Niger as he pulled off another fantastic stop - this time with an elbow - three minutes before halftime when Mbokani was again clear of his markers.
Boosted by their goalkeeper's performance, Niger found momentum in the early part of the second half and captain Moussa Maazou forced the pony-tailed Kidiaba to scramble.