By GERALD IMRAY
AP Sports Writer
PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa (AP) _ With one inspired by conflict and the other by poetry, Mali and Congo will play off for the right to join Group B’s likely other qualifier, Ghana, in the African Cup of Nations quarterfinals.
Mali will use the trouble in its homeland as “extra motivation” to stay in the competition and keep alive its chances of a first African title, captain Seydou Keita said.
Congo‘s seasoned French coach Claude Le Roy faces another crucial game in his seventh Cup of Nations and 31st match in charge of a team at the championship.
All that experience of the continent’s top competition had left him “more peaceful inside,” he said, as he quoted French poetry for reporters in the buildup to Monday’s decisive round of group matches.
Title contender and group leader Ghana needs a point against bottom team Niger to make certain of its quarterfinal place, although a win for the defense-minded Niger team and a victory for either Mali or Congo would be disastrous for the Ghanaians.
Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah said the meeting with the tough Niger defense in Port Elizabeth would be the title contenders’ “most difficult” challenge so far after it blew a two-goal lead against Congo and then just edged Mali in a slow start.
“There’s no way you play a game and think everything went perfectly,” Appiah said. “The important thing is to work on the mistakes and go from there and that is what I am doing.”
The conflict at home would naturally be on the Malians’ minds in South Africa, Keita and coach Patrice Carteron both said. The key was how they used it.
France sent a military force of 2,400 to the West African nation on Jan. 11 to fight Islamic extremists, who had surged southward from their strongholds in the north of the country.
“We are affected by what is going on in Mali because it makes life very difficult and complicated for those who live there,” Keita said in Durban, where Mali will play Congo at Moses Mabhida Stadium. “But at the same time, it gives us extra motivation to bring some joy to Mali, and giving moments of joy to a country that is going through a rough patch is priceless.”
Carteron, who has answered questions on his players’ state of minds with regard to the war back home openly and with great consideration over the last week, said football had to take priority for his squad for now.
“Of course there are difficult events in Mali, but our job is to focus on what is happening on the football pitch and find the motivation during those 90 minutes to qualify for the knockout phase,” he said. “Of course we realize that it would give some happiness to an entire people, but our job is to focus on our football.”
With Ghana top of the group on four points, Mali second on three, Congo on two and Niger on one, Le Roy’s Congo team has to play to win. But that’ll likely suit the free-spirited Congolese lineup, which has attacking flair in abundance led by Dieumerci Mbokani, who was voted the Belgian league’s best player last week.
And with the vastly experienced and poetry loving Le Roy in charge, Congo gives off the impression _ above all _ of a harmonious team.
“In this brutal world, I would like to give you a moment of poetry,” Le Roy said at a press conference before quoting French poet Arthur Rimbaud.
“Participating in the Africa Cup of Nations for the seventh time means that most of my life is behind me and as you grow older you become more peaceful inside … So participating in this tournament is an immense pleasure,” Le Roy said.
Ben Barnier and Brett Blignaut of SNTV contributed to this report from Durban, South Africa.
UK: Specific threat to Westerners in Somaliland
By RAPHAEL SATTER
LONDON (AP) _ British citizens should immediately leave the breakaway Somaliland region of Somalia because of a specific threat to Westerners, British diplomats said Sunday. It was the second such warning issued for an African region in just days and comes amid growing turbulence across the continent’s north.
In a statement emailed to reporters, Britain’s Foreign Office did not go into any further detail about the nature of the threat but noted that “kidnapping for financial or political gain, motivated by criminality or terrorism” is an issue throughout Somalia.
Somalia has endured years of civil war, and Britain _ along with the United States and a host of other countries _ has long advised against all travel to the Horn of Africa nation. Sunday’s travel warning applies specifically to the northwest territory of Somaliland, which declared its independence from Somalia in 1991 and has since been a haven of relative peace amid the chaos and bloodshed of the country’s south.
The new warning was issued only days after Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and Canada urged their citizens in the Libyan city of Benghazi to evacuate in response to what was then described as an imminent threat to Westerners. European officials told The Associated Press at the time that schools were thought to be among the potential targets.
The exact reason for the warnings remains unclear, but they come at a time of heightened tension across north Africa. French and African land forces are battling al-Qaida-linked Islamists in northern Mali, while a renewed bout of unrest has gripped Egypt following the two-year anniversary of the revolution that toppled strongman Hosni Mubarak.
In addition, a Jan. 16 attack on the Ain Amenas natural gas plant in the Sahara ignited a four-day siege by Algerian forces in which at least 37 hostages and 29 militants died. An al-Qaida-affiliated group has claimed responsibility for the attack. Libya also remains unstable following the overthrow of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
It was unclear if any of those factors played a role in Britain’s latest warning. The Foreign Office declined to comment beyond its brief statement.
Somaliland, a former British colony, is a key ally for neighboring Ethiopia, which has an embassy in the enclave, and collaborates with the United States and its allies on anti-terrorism missions. Somaliland employs its own security forces, justice system, and currency but is not recognized as a separate country by the international community.
Somaliland was most recently hit by terror attacks in 2008, when suicide car bombers struck inside the enclave and its neighboring Puntland territory, killing more than 29 people.
Abdi Guled in Mogadishu, Somalia contributed to this report.
British government travel advice on Somalia: http://bit.ly/cbSix4
Raphael Satter can be reached at: http://raphae.li/twitter