Mali go into the semi-final against the Ivory Coast at the Stade de l’Amitie in the Gabonese capital Libreville as arguably one of the surprise packages of this Africa Cup of Nations. Coach Alain Giresse took a mostly young and inexperienced team to the tournament based around veterans Cedric Kante and Saydou Keita and accordingly may not have been expected to progress so far.
Mali face a tough task. The Elephants have yet to concede a goal in this tournament [scoring eight in the progress]. Whereas for Mali, one weakness has perhaps been going forward. The Eagles have scored only four goals in open play and to compound this, striker Modibo Maiga was red carded against Gabon and will miss the semi- final. Mali will have to be at their best and to do so they will have to improve their record against the West African rivals. Ivory Coast have won 14 and drawn six of their 21 meetings including 3-0 and 3-1 victories in the tournaments history. However, Keita is happy to dismiss this: “The past? In football the past doesn’t count for anything.”
Perhaps, as against Gabon, the role of underdogs will suit the Malians. “We deserve our qualification. Everything isn’t perfect, we’re not Barcelona nor Brazil but we’re in the semi-finals and we’ll play to our strengths. We have nothing to lose,” added Keita.
Ivory Coast will be heavy favourites to progress to the final but may feel the pressure to lose their tags as chokers, having failed to live up to expectations on previous occasions. Maybe Giresse was attempting to increase this pressure by calling The Elephants “The Brazil of Africa”, whilst taking the pressure off of his own young players. “Winning the quarter-final was the icing on the cake and now we want to enjoy the experience but still play well enough to win,” said Giresse. He continued: “This is a game we have to approach with some circumspection but we see it as a challenge. We will take it slowly and look to match them in all departments.”
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the match will be the battle between the two opposing figureheads, Kante and Didier Drogba. Mali’s route to the semi-final has been based on a tight defence led by their veteran captain. Similarly, Drogba has been at the forefront for the Ivory Coast with one assist and three goals including a bullet header against Equatorial Guinea. Whoever of the two comes out on top may just hold the key to this tie.
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