Can Mali finally do it?

Mali, as the third-ranked team on the African continent, should be in the running to lift a maiden Africa Cup of Nations title in South Africa.

 

The most experienced player in the Mali squad is midfielder Seydou Keita, whose goal scoring proficiency is underlined by the fact that he is also the Eagles' leading goal scorer. Now with Chinese Super League club Dalian Aerbin, Keita has also played for leading clubs in France and Spain, including for Barcelona.

Cheick Diabaté netted three goals in the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations finals, including both goals in Mali's 2-0 victory over Ghana for third place. He has, in recent times, become a regular goal scorer for the national team, netting nine goals for since August 2011.

Mahamadou Diarra made his senior national debut way back in 2001 and brings a load of experience and class to the Malian engine room. He pulls the strings in the middle of the park as a defensive midfielder and also chips in with the occasional goal. While Diarra is currently with English Premier outfit Fulham, his former clubs include Monaco, Real Madid and Olympique Lyon, among others.

Mali's toughest opposition in Group B is likely to come from Ghana. It is a repeat of the 2012 Afcon finals, when both teams were in the same group.

In that tournament, the Black Stars topped the group standings ahead of the Eagles after scoring a 2-0 victory. Both teams advanced to the quarterfinals and, after Ghana beat Tunisia and Mali edged Gabon on penalties, they went on to the semi-finals, where both lost.

In a rematch, in the playoff for third and fourth place, Mali reversed the result from earlier in the tournament to win 2-0.

Expect it to be just as tight between the teams in South Africa. The lastest Fifa world rankings attest to this: Mali occupies 28th place and Ghana 29th.

Mali coach Patrice Carteron took over from Alain Girese. He is a strict disciplinarian and tactically efficient as he has guided the Malians to a number of victories since taking over. The players respect him, and his coaching philosophy is thus far paying dividends for the Eagles.

Carteron has put together a formidable squad made up of veterans such as Seydou Keita and Adama Coulibally, as well as youngsters including Samba Sow of French side Lens and Djoliba's 19-year-old Salif Coulibally.

Moussa Yatabare of French Ligue 2 side Guingamp is the star player in the Malian set-up, banging in the goals for the Eagles since switching allegiance from France in 2010.

He is a ferocious attacking player. The 23-year-old, who was born in France and has previously played for the French Under-20 team is the main figure in an attacking quartet which also features Cheick Fantamady Diara of Stade de Rennes and Modibo Maiga of West Ham.

Carteron says about the Group B draw: “Ghana is a seeded team and thus a difficult opponent. Niger who succeeded to eliminate Guinea would also be a difficult opponent. DR Congo will be a complicated opponent due to the competitiveness of their coach Claude le Roy who has proven his worth in this competition. This group is not an impossible one; we have equal chances with the other group members.”

 

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