Among Africa’s big footballing nations, it’s hard to find too many with as much untapped potential as Mali. While the West Africans have produced some of the continent’s finest players—notably Salif Keita, Fredi Kanoute and Seydou Keita—they’ve never won the Africa Cup of Nations nor reached the World Cup.
However, while they were narrowly defeated by the Ivory Coast in the Afcon Round of 16, they could be on the cusp of a golden era, with a combination of exciting local talent, established stars in Europe’s major leagues, and a swathe of dual-nationality players who have teased representing the Eagles.
In this fantasy feature, Ed Dove puts together his Mali dream team of current internationals and those players who are eligible to play for the national side
- Marty Melville/AFP/Getty Images
GK Djigui Diarra
Mali’s current Number One keeps his spot in the team.
Diarra made 14 appearances for the Eagles last term, and the Stade Malien stopper will again man the fort for the home-based side when they compete in the African Nations Championship in Cameroon in April.
CB Almamy Toure
Capped by France at U-21 level, he appears unlikely to make the step up to senior level and would be a realistic recruit for Mali.
CB Adama Soumaoro
The 27-year-old may have lost his way with Les Dogues, but he’s already made his mark in the Italian top flight, finding the net against Bologna on Saturday with a close-range finish.
Soumaoro is uncapped at any level, but his immense aerial prowess and ability to play at the base of the midfield would make him an asset for Mali.
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CB Molla Wague
Having opted for a back three, there’s no place in this team for either Hamari Traore or Youssouf Kone, even though they’re one of the stronger full-back pairings in Africa.
Instead, I’ve opted for Wague of Nantes to complete the trio of centre-backs, with the 28-year-old getting in ahead of Mamadou Fofana or Moussa Niakhate.
He’s been a solid presence for Nantes during a positive year in Ligue 1—despite their recent slump—and finally appears to be settling after four loan moves in the last three years.
LW Moussa Diaby
Left winger who was allowed to leave Paris Saint-Germain in the summer despite winning the French title with the capital club last term.
He’s wasted little time in establishing himself in Germany with Bayer Leverkusen, having a hand in five goals in 16 league outings so far this term, as his new employers continue to push for Champions League qualification.
CM Abdoulaye Doucoure
Watford powerhouse who has been one of the Premier League’s most consistent performers in recent years, Doucoure would walk into this Mali team—squeezing out Amadou Haidara in the process.
Defensively able, he’s also comfortable on the ball, passes well, and also weighs in with goals—he has 16 goals and 10 assists across the last two and a half Premier League seasons, but remains uncapped by France at senior level.
CM Diadie Samassekou
One of the underrated stars of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations—and arguably Mali’s key man—Samassekou is enjoying his first season in a major European league this term after swapping Red Bull Salzburg for Hoffenheim.
So far, the defensive midfielder, who won three Austrian titles at Salzburg, has perhaps struggled to show his best qualities in the German top flight, but recent breathless showings against Bayer Leverkusen and Wolfsburg were a sign of things to come.
With Doucoure partnering Samassekou in midfield, there's no place for Brighton & Hove Albion's Yves Bissouma.
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RW Adama Traore
One of the Premier League’s outstanding talents this term, the Wolverhampton Wanderers wideman has toyed with the idea of representing Mali, but is yet to truly commit to the Eagles and pull on the jersey in a competitive fixture.
He’s represented Spain at youth level, partly during his time at Barcelona’s La Masia academy, and while he’s taken his time realising his potential, a return to his homeland may soon be in the offing.
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FW Moussa Dembele
Olympique Lyonnais frontman who has progressed through the ranks with France’s youth team—scoring 13 in 25 for the U-21s—but is yet to make the step up to senior level.
FW Moussa Marega
The most high-profile player currently representing the Eagles, Marega has enjoyed great success in front of goal with FC Porto, scoring 39 goals in the Portuguese top flight since arriving from Vitoria de Guimaraes.
While he failed to net in the Champions League this term, he demonstrated his quality at the highest level last season with six goals in nine continental outings.
The 28-year-old has consistently been linked with a move to the Premier League—specifically West Ham United—and made headlines earlier this week when he walked off the pitch after suffering racist abuse during a league game against his former employers.
FW Alassane Plea
The only player in this list to have represented another international side at senior level, Plea remains eligible for Mali having only featured for France in a friendly.
That match—against Uruguay—was back in October 2018, and the 26-year-old has only been called up once since.
Could he—like Geoffrey Kondogbia—opt to switch allegiance to an African nation?
Mali would be glad to have him, with the former Lyon man having enjoyed steady progress since taking the opportunities that came his way and forging a spot for himself at OGC Nice.
He ultimately moved to Borussia Monchengladbach in 2018—for €25 million—and has scored 20 league goals in the subsequent 18 months.