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African Nations Cup hosts Angola face the talented Malians in the opening match of the competition this weekend, with both teams eager to get off to a winning start.

Kick-off: Sunday, January 10 2010, 17:00 (CET), Estadio dos Coqueiros, Luanda.

Angola Looking To Continue Host Nations' Successes


Since the first African Cup of Nations tournament was held in Sudan in 1957, host countries have failed to reach at least the semi-finals on only four occasions.

The Palancas Negras (Black Antelopes) have been preparing well for their home tournament with a number of matches played against a variety of opposition. They have pulled off a few impressive results along the way, including a 2-0 win over Togo and draws with the likes of Ghana, Senegal and Cameroon.

The draw for the competition placed Angola automatically in Group A as the hosts, playing all of their group stage matches in Luanda. They were drawn with Mali, Malawi and World Cup-bound Algeria. The draw is certainly not an easy one, but avoiding the likes of Nigeria and Ghana is always a good thing.

The anticipated home support notwithstanding, Angola have a squad that can get the job done. Benfica's Pedro Mantorras is one of the best strikers in the Portuguese league, while former Manchester United forward Manucho, who now turns out for Real Valladolid in Spain, is as lethal as the Drogbas or Eto’os of African football.

In the rearguard, Dias Caires of Sagrada Esperanca, Jamuana of Petro Atletico and Rui Marques of Leeds United will be expected to hold tight in the defence while Petro Atletico’s Davids, Al Ahli’s Gilberto and Ze Kalanga of Dinamo Bucharest may not be household names, but can close the midfield for opponents whenever duty calls.

Angola’s opening match against Mali will define their group standing. A win will give them great momentum when they face Malawi in the second match, whereupon a second victory would then guarantee them qualification to the quarters. Much is at stake.

Mali Aiming To Lift Cup As Underdogs

Mali played probably their worst AFCON in Ghana 2008 when they were knocked out in the group stages when paired alongside Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Benin. One win, one draw and a loss was enough to condemn Fredi Kanoute’s compatriots to an early exit and they will be keen to make amends for that tournament with this one, starting against the hosts.

In Angola, Mali will have a team coached by Nigerian Stephen Keshi, who, as captain of the Nigerian national team, lifted the title in 1994. He brings a great deal of experience to the Malian bench having seen little Togo through qualifying for the 2006 World Cup.

Mali missed out on qualifying for South Africa 2010, ceding the sole group ticket to Ghana, who beat them in 2-0 Bamako last year. But it was a different game when the Malians played Ghana in Kumasi in November, when a young team devoid of big name stars almost ran away with a win over the Black Stars until the latter moments of the game when Anthony Annan struck a hard-earned equaliser for the Ghanaians.

Mali boast the talents of a number of European based stars, plying their trade in some of the best leagues in the world, including Fredi Kanoute in Spain and Momo Sissoko in Italy. The experts believe that if they play disciplined football and find a win against either Angola or Algeria, they will find their way to the next round of the competition.

This competition is probably the last chance for the golden generation of Malian players to prove its worth on the international stage, and they will be keen to do well at the African Cup of Nations as a consolation for missing out on Africa’s first World Cup.

TEAM NEWS

Angola


Angola have a relatively full squad for their home tournament, with two key players likely to miss this first encounter. Striker Flavio and defensive midfielder Stelvio are doubtful for Sunday’s opener.

Squad
:
Goalkeepers: Carlos Fernandes (Rio Ave, Portugal), Lama (Petro Atletico), Wilson (Recreativo Caala)
Defenders: Dias Caires (Sagrada Esperanca), Enoque (Santos), Jamuana (Petro Atletico), Kali (Arles-Avignon, France), Mabina (Petro Atletico), Rui Marques (Leeds United, England), Stelvio (Uniao Leiria, Portugal)
Midfielders: David (Petro Atletico), Dede (Arles-Avignon, France), Djalma (Maritimo, Portugal), Gilberto (Al Ahli, Egypt), Job, Xara (both Petro Atletico), Ze Kalanga (Dinamo Bucharest, Romania), Zuela (Kuban Krasnodar, Russia)
Forwards: Flavio (Al Shabab, Saudi Arabia), Johnson Makaba (Recreativo Libolo), Love (Primeiro Agosto), Mantorras (Benfica, Portugal), Manucho (Real Valladolid, Spain)

Mali

Frederic Kanoute, Mohamed Sissoko and Mahamadou Diarra, regarded as Mali's biggest stars, will all be on show in the opening match.

Squad:
Goalkeepers: Soumbeyla Diakite (Stade Malien), Mahamadou Sidibe (Omonia Nicosia, Cyprus), Oumar Sissoko (Metz, France)
Defenders: Souleymane Diamountene (Bari, Italy), Ousmane Berthe (Jomo Cosmos, South Africa), Abdoulaye Maiga (Stade Malien), Bakary Soumare (Boulogne-sur-Mer, France), Adama Tamboura (Helsingborg, Sweden)
Midfielders: Mahamadou Diarra (Real Madrid, Spain), Lassana Fane (Al Merreikh, Sudan), Seydou Keita (Barcelona, Spain), Momo Sissoko (Juventus, Italy), Samba Sow (Racing Lens, France), Abdoul Traore (Girondins Bordeaux, France), Bakaye Traore (Nancy, France), Mahamane Traore (Nice, France)
Forwards: Mamadou Bagayoko (Nice, France), Mamadou Diallo (Le Havre, France), Frederic Kanoute (Sevilla, Spain), Modibo Maiga (Le Mans, France), Tenema Ndiaye (Nantes, France), Mamadou Samassa (Valenciennes, France), Mustapha Yatabare (Clermont Foot, France)

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Angola

Manucho
, or Mateus Alberto Contreiras Goncalves is one of the few stars of Angolan football who has been in the limelight over the past few seasons due to his potential and the clubs interested in his services. He currently plays for Real Valladolid in La Liga. The talented striker is strong and fast, able to hold the ball up well, and is not afraid to run at defenders and try his luck with shots on goal from distance.

Mali

Seydou Keita
is undoubtedly the most recognisable name in the Eagles’ star-studded midfield at the moment after winning every trophy available during the last year with Barcelona. The 29 year-old African footballer of the year nominee has finally fulfilled his long-held promise of stardom which began at the Nigeria ‘99 Under-20 World Cup, where he was named player of the tournament as he led Mali to a third place finish.

PREDICTION

Angola are under pressure to succeed in their home tournament, and a great deal will depend on their opening encounter against Mali. The Malians know that this competition gives them a chance to surprise the favourites and take the title back home, but perhaps home advantage will weigh heavily on the day and the game will go in favour of Angola.

Angola 1-0 Mali


Peter Pedroncelli, Goal.com

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