Mali coach Patrice Carteron praised his skipper, Seydou Keita, after the Eagles secured their second successive third-place finish at the Africa Cup of Nations. Photo by Anesh Debiky

Port Elizabeth – Mali coach Patrice Carteron praised his skipper, Seydou Keita, after the Eagles secured their second successive third-place finish at the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) tournament, defeating Ghana

3-1 at a soaked Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, in Port Elizabeth, on Saturday night.

Looking in the form of his life, Keita scored the Eagles' second goal to help secure the bronze medal, and Carteron believed he was one of the best performers throughout the competition.

“We have a fantastic leader in Seydou Keita,” Carteron said.

“I hope he will be the player of the tournament. He would be the first Malian player elected and it would be fantastic for him.

“He gives so much to his country, not only in football, but he gives so much that he deserves to be nominated.

“He is so professional that if he wants, he can play until he is 40 years old.”

The fixture was a repeat of the 2012 Afcon bronze medal playoff, when Mali defeated Ghana 2-0 in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.

Carteron was delighted to walk away with third place, despite failing to go all the way in the tournament for the second time in two years.

“Most of the people before the competition thought that we could win this competition,” he said.

“We must realise that Mali do not have as much money as a lot of big footballing nations in Africa.

“What Mali did last year was unbelievable and to start again this year with younger players and to finish third is fantastic.

“For us, after the defeat in the semi-final (against Nigeria), we were really disappointed. It's sad but I'm sure the people of Mali will be so proud of what the team did during the competition. I'm really proud of what we did.”

With action swinging from end-to-end on the drenched pitch, Mahamadou Samassa broke the deadlock with a diving header in the 21st minute, and Keita extended their advantage shortly after the half-time break when he smashed home past goalkeeper Fatawu Dauda.

Kwadwo Asamoah sparked a revival from the Ghanaians, who had missed a penalty taken by Mubarak Wakaso in the 57th minute, as he pulled a goal back with a long-range strike eight minutes from time.

Second-half replacement Sigamaray Diarra had the last say, restoring Mali's two goal advantage and ensuring victory in injury time.

The Malians continue their bid for a place in next year's Fifa World Cup in Brazil – something the Eagles have never achieved before Ä when they take on Rwanda in a qualifying match in March.

“Next month we play a difficult game against Rwanda and we play the final qualification match in Algeria in September,” Carteron said.

“We have to be strong mentally if we want to make it to the World Cup for the fist time in Mali's history.”

Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah also hoped his side would go on to compete in the global spectacle in 2014.

“This team is a young team that I am building. I have 11 young players in this team at the moment,” Appiah said.

“We need to look at the mistakes that we made but I believe we have a very good team.

“It's not easy building a team but you have to start somewhere. They can go to Brazil.”

Appiah, appointed in April last year, believed he had done enough to keep his job after his team secured fourth place.

“I don't expect to be building a team and all of a sudden you win everything,” he said.

“Personally, I believe that my boys have done so well.” – Sapa