A superb back-heel by Junior Ajayi had put Nigerians ahead in the 16th minute before Usman Mohammed made it two in the 34th minute.
Junior Ajayi made it three from a rebound at the stroke of half-time as both teams went into the break with Nigeria leading 3 – 0; sending the Dream Team to ‘cloud-nine’.
Mali returned from the break firing from all cylinders and their efforts paid-off when Adama Niane converted from the spot after he was brought-down in the danger-area.
Wasteful Mali lost a couple of chances as they continued to navigate into the Nigerian area. However, substitute Souleymane Sissoko made it 3 – 2 when latched onto a ‘delicious’ through-ball to reduce Nigeria’s lead with a low-drive past goalkeeper Daniel, setting-up a very pulsating final 25 minutes.
Mali continued to pile the pressure to get the equalizer, but Siasia’s men held on as they repelled subsequent moves by the Malians. It ended Nigeria 3 – 2 Mali.
Nigeria will play Egypt on Wednesday December 2. The Egyptians played 1 – 1 with Algeria in the other game of the group.
Meanwhile, Coach Samson Siasia’s mother on Saturday November 28, regained her freedom after spending close to two weeks in a kidnappers’ den.
Madam Ogere Siasia, 72, was kidnapped from her house in Odoni village, Sagbama local government area of Bayelsa state, by armed men who stormed the family’s house in the early hours of November 16.