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By Mark Gleeson
DURBAN, South Africa, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Ghana's hopes at the African Nations Cup finals could be in severe peril if they fail to get a result against Mali in Port Elizabeth on Thursday.
Ghana, who squandered a two-goal lead against the Democratic Republic of Congo in their opening match, face a Mali side that top Group B after beating Niger 1-0 on Sunday.
Mali will also have the psychological advantage after they beat the Black Stars in the third place play-off at the last Nations Cup in 2012.
The match at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium will pit two young teams expected to play a prominent role in future competitions, but Ghana's 2-2 draw with the Congolese raised questions over their inexperience and temperament at the highest level.
"I've had lots of information on them but it is important that we plan our own strategy and make sure that they don't play," Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah said on the eve of the match.
Also on Thursday, the Congolese will take on Niger, still seeking their first Nations Cup point.
Niger played a defensive game against Mali and held out until the last few minutes when they conceded the only goal of the game.
Niger's defensive frailties are likely to be exploited by a DR Congo attack that is among the strongest at the tournament. (Editing by Peter Rutherford)