It will not be business as usual when the Benin Squirrels face the Malian Eagles in their backyard in the battle for the second spot in Group D.
When Benin faced Mali in their backyard in June, they started the match at a blistering pace. In the 12th minute a short corner kick was played to Muri Ogunbyi Ola who instinctively crossed to Seidath Tchomogo near the goal mouth and without hesitating he headed behind the goal-line. After the goal, the Squirrels thought they were in for a routine victory but a late onslaught from the Eagles dented their earlier optimism when they scored three breathtaking goals to seal the crucial victory.
This was the second loss for Benin after narrowly losing out to Ghana in Kumasi in the first match of their campaign, but a win against Sudan restored their hopes. But after their latest loss to Mali, the Benin lads must be prepared to give their home fans something special. The players have stayed together as a unit for quite some time and have gelled well with the team chemistry. Most of them are the same players who featured in the 2005 U20 World Cup and have now matured to take head on the continental giants.
Malian Eagles Hovering dangerously Craving For A Kill
In the recent past, Mali have emerged as one of the strongest sides in the continent ready to knock the old boys out of their perch. When the 2010 World Cup groups were unveiled, pundits tipped Mali and Ghana to wrestle for top spot in Group D but the Eagles started their campaign on a wrong footing when they drew 1-1 with Sudan in Khartoum, before going down 2-0 against the blazing Black Stars of Ghana at home.
Despite the unexpected results, Stephen Keshi’s men reaffirmed their continental stature when they came from behind to beat Benin 3-1 and appease the home fans who had started having misgivings for their stars, most of whom ply their trade in top European leagues.
Mali who have four points from three matches trail the group leaders Ghana who have had a clean sweep of nine points. Despite the big margin, the Eagles still have a mathematical chance of upsetting Ghana’s apple cart if they can win the three remaining matches and pray that Ghana can slip in their remaining encounters.
The Squirrels coach Michel Dussuyer will be under pressure to deliver at home and make it comfortable for his side to snatch one of the three spots for the African Cup of Nations in Angola. But this may be the team’s undoing because they will be playing against an experienced side that can blow them away when given even a small opening.
During the international friendlies last month, Benin managed to hold the new continental kids in the block, Gabon to a 1-1 draw, providing the consolation to make them believe that they can match and even do better against another strong opponent. Zita Mbanangoye opened the account for Gabon before Maiga Abou equalised to settle the nerves of the Squirrels who were playing at home.
Squad for previous fixture: Djidonou Yoann, Tardieu Benoît, Adjamonssi Anicet, Agnidé Moustapha, Chrysostome Damien, Glélé John, Salomon Junior, Johnson Reda, Singbo Félicien, Ahouéya Jocelyn, Angan Pascal, Boco Romuald, Djokoué Patrice, Kobena Nouhoum, Koukou Djiman, Ogunbiyi Mouritala, Tchomogo Séidah, Sessegnon Stéphane, Omotoyossi Razack, Poté Michael, Maïga Abou.
The Eagles will be in the driving seat in Benin despite playing away. The team looks to have regained top form after hammering Burkina Faso 3-0 during an international friendly last month. Modibo Maiga opened the score line before Mad Diallo hit the decks twice to seal the victory- all in the first half.
The team will again miss the services of Real Madrid midfielder Mahamadou Diarra who is recuperating from career threatening knee surgery, but in Fredrick Kanoute and Modibo Maiga, Mali have a maestro attack that Benin’s defensive line may find too hot to contain. Maiga netted a brace in the last game and his combination with Kanoute will rattle The Squirrels further on Sunday. Kanoute was dismissed over the weekend when his club Seville played and lost to Valencia during a Spanish League match. The dismissal may not count much in the match when the teams meet on Sunday.
Squad for the first leg: Maha, Sissoko, Soumbeyla, Adama Tamboura, Coulibaly, Diamoutènè, Drissa Diakité, Cheick Ballo, Tori, Soumaré,Amadou Sidibé, Lassana Fane, Bakaye Traore, Momo Sissoko, Se. Keita,sambou Yatabare, El haj Mahamane, J.B. Kebe, Dembele, Modibo Maiga, Mad Diallo, Kanouté, Moustapha Yatabaré, Samassa, Cheick Tdianne Diabaté.
Benin will be playing at home but they will be against a battle hardened Malian side that has discovered their winning ways late in the day. A result in favour of the Eagles will not be a big surprise.
Benin 1- Mali 2
James Momanyi, Goal.com