PORT ELIZABETH, South Africa - Mubarak Wakaso stepped up in place of Asamoah Gyan and converted a 38th-minute penalty to give Ghana a 1-0 win over Mali at the African Cup of Nations on Thursday, and then celebrated with a religious slogan that could leave him in trouble.
Wakaso's goal put Ghana's Group B campaign on track after the title contenders had blown a 2-0 lead to draw their opening match against Congo.
He capitalized from the spot when Emmanuel Agyemang Badu was fouled by Adama Tamboura, replacing Gyan as penalty taker after the Ghana captain's costly misses at recent tournaments.
"I said it at the beginning of the tournament, I'm not responsible for the penalty kicks," Gyan said. "He's (Wakaso) young ... but he's doing well."
Gyan's decision after missing at the last World Cup and African Cup left the young Wakaso to sweep his left-foot penalty confidently into the top right corner. But the 22-year-old winger showed his immaturity as well when he celebrated by pulling his T-shirt over his head, earning a yellow card and a suspension for the final group game.
Mali went closest with an early free kick from captain Seydou Keita, but Wakaso's goal gave Ghana a deserved win after Badu had earlier hit the post with a header before winning the decisive penalty with a surging run into the box.
Wakaso's celebration, showing the words "Allah is Great!" on a T-shirt under his jersey, could have more repercussions for Ghana. FIFA rules also don't allow players to display political or religious slogans on the field.
"I told him during halftime that he shouldn't have done that," Ghana coach Kwesi Appiah said. "(But) it's always important that he learns from it so that we don't face such situations (again)."
Mali's best period was probably contained in the opening minutes, during which Ghana goalkeeper Fatawu Dauda handled outside the penalty area after early defensive confusion, denying Keita a run on goal.
"I still don't understand why after five minutes the goalkeeper of Ghana wasn't sent off," Mali coach Patrice Carteron said. "I don't want to argue about this. It's just a question. I don't know why."
Keita curled the resulting free kick just past the left post, then threw his hands onto his head as the ball skimmed past the upright with Dauda motionless. But it was one of few openings for Mali as Ghana was the better team.
"There was no loss of concentration during this game," Appiah said. "There's much more to offer."
After Keita's early attempt, Gyan controlled the ball well to create a half-chance for himself — and Ghana's first opening — in the 13th, only for his snap shot to be deflected away.
Afful Harrison blazed just over the crossbar in the 24th as Ghana began to press.
As Ghana improved, Badu emerged again as its crucial player after his goal against Congo. He first rose to meet a free kick from Wakaso from the left and sent a header off the outside of the post in the 32nd minute.
Four minutes later, the midfielder was challenged by Tamboura for Ghana's penalty after making a darting run into the area from Gyan's pass. The Malians argued strongly with referee Doue Noumandiez of Ivory Coast that Tamboura had played the ball.
Wakaso still buried the spot kick, choosing to go high and to the right corner and away from goalkeeper Mamadou Samassa and allowing Gyan to watch a successful Ghana penalty this time after his misses in the World Cup quarterfinals and African Cup semifinals.