Last edition’s bronze winners Mali will take on fellow west Africans Niger in the second Group B game, and will be aiming for a sizeable lead ahead of their next opposition
Coulibaly, Tamboura, Coulibaly, Sow
Keita, N'Diaye, Sissoko, Diabate
Chicoto, James, Kowa, Fatogoma
N'Gonou, Boubacar, Lacina, Dante
Mali, who finished third at the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, experienced an important reshuffle before the departure of Alain Giresse, whom the local press still considers as the coach who revived the country’s modern football, leading the Eagles to the podium 41 years after their silver finish in 1972.
A couple of players have also left the outfit due to injury, declining form and age, such as former captain Cedric Kante, Mamadou Diarra of Fulham and Bordeaux midfielder Abdou Traore. However, the present squad still boasts of top regulars such as current captain Seydou Keita, Cheick Diabate, Modibo Maiga and Adama Tamboura, who were also part of the 2012 success.
New coach Patrice Carteron says his main contribution since arriving in July has been the upkeep of the team’s strength and ambition. Although the outfit did not enrol competitive sides for friendlies as part of their groundwork for South Africa 2013, the Frenchman believes that they enjoyed a satisfactory preparation altogether at home in Mali, where armed conflict is under way between loyalists and Islamic forces. This has also been a source of concern for most of the players, who have confessed fears for their family members.
Mali will be aiming to snag three points over Niger to smooth their path to the upcoming cracker against Ghana, however, they will practice caution and respect for the Mena who ousted a plucky Guinean team to book their place.
Niger officials say their team went to their first Afcon last year to learn and receive exposure, but this time the boys are coming to show the continent what they learned at the 2012 showpiece, and the status they now deserve.
Former Gabon coach Gernot Rohr was appointed early in 2012 and tasked with qualifying Niger for their second Nations Cup, but Guinea stood as a massive hurdle in the final round qualifying, which he surmounted 2-1 on aggregate to the surprise of many pundits, proving that the Mena are no longer the hitherto pushover minnows.
Niger will endeavour to hinder Mali from imposing a fluid construction by buckling the Eagles’ efforts, especially in the midfield by using a very defensive style, which has highly favoured them recently. Team captain Moussa Maazou, Issoufou Dante and Abdoulkarim Lancina will play deep as usual, hoping to wreak havoc on the Malians at the slightest opportunity.
|DID YOU KNOW?|
Mali played their first international match against the Central African Republic on April 13, 1960, which ended 4-3 in favour of the Eagles.
Mali's biggest win was against Mauritania in 1970, which ended 11-0, while their worst defeat was against Algeria 7-0 in November 1988.
Mali have never qualified for the Fifa World Cup.
Mali have the highest number of African professionals in Europe after Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire.
The Niger Football Federation was able to raise $4 million (€3m) for the team to cover preparations and bills for the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations.
- The Niger national team is known as the Mena.
Niger had their highest Fifa ranking at 68th position in 1994 and are currently ranked 97 in the world after gaining places recently.
Niger had their biggest win in 1990 against Mauritania, ending 7-1 in their favour.