Upbeat Mali plan to embarrass cup hosts Angola

2010-01-08 15:26

MALI is planning to become the Africa Cup of Nations’ party poopers

a second time when they face hosts Angola on Sunday in the opening match of this

year’s tournament.

The Eagles stunned over-confident Tunisia 2-0 in the 1994

curtainraiser with President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali so disgusted by the

performance of the home team that he stormed out of the stadium long before the

final whistle.

“You only need to look at the calibre of players in this team, the

body language, attitude and spirit to know we mean business,” was the chilling

message for the host nation from Mali coach Stephen Keshi.

“I realise we are not among the favourites and large sections of

the media do not believe we will even qualify for the knockout stage, but I beg

to differ.

“Our preparations have gone according to plan and my team can go

all the way to the final,” said Keshi, a Nations Cup winner as a player with his

native Nigeria 16 years ago.

He said Malians should not be concerned about only one victory in

four warm-up matches around the Middle East as he was experimenting with various

combinations.

Mali defeated Iran, drew with Qatar and lost to North Korea in a

Doha tournament before jetting to Dubai where they fell 1-0 to Nations Cup title

holders Egypt.

Of the 16 coaches who led their respective national teams to the

Ghana Nations Cup in 2008, only Egyptian Hassan Shehata will be in Angola, and

Keshi on the other hand knows very well that a first-round exit from a group

completed by 2010 World Cup qualifiers Algeria and Malawi could spell the end of

his tenure at the helm.

Expected to push Ghana hard for a place at this year’s World Cup in

South Africa, Mali flopped to finish only third in the mini-league behind the

Black Stars and lightweights Benin.

Mali boast big names in midfielders Mahamadou Diarra of Real Madrid

and Seydou Keita of FC Barcelona plus the 2008 African Footballer of the Year

and Sevilla striker Frederic Kanoute. All the three teams compete in the

toughest Spanish La Liga in Spain.

There was also room in the 23-man strong squad for a couple of

local stars, goalkeeper Soumbeyla Diakate and defender Abdoulaye Maiga from

African Confederation Cup holders Stade Malien.

The Eagles boast a proud Nations Cup record, finishing runners-up

to Congo-Brazzaville in 1972 in Cameroon, and the west Africans have been among

the top four in four of the five previous appearances.

In 2008 Ghana was the exception with a 3-0 loss to Ivory Coast

eliminating Mali after the first round and French coach Jean-Francois Jodar was

dumped in favour of Keshi.


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