Guinea vs Côte d'Ivoire - 3pm
DR Congo vs Mali - 6:30pm
The Democratic Republic of Congo and Mali will lock horns in a do or die encounter in the 2016 Africa Nations Championship (CHAN) title match on Sunday evening at Amahoro National Stadium in Kigali.
Mali have been one of the surprise packages of the competition for their open attacking style which has helped them to win over many supporters in Rwanda.
DR Congo won the inaugural CHAN tournament in 2009, a competition which is only open to players who play in their respective local leagues.
Stakes are high for either side as they are both hungry to go on and lift the continental trophy, and both sides have been outstanding in the tournament that started on January, 16.
Both teams will battle for the top prize, and this is the first time Mali have reached the final of the CHAN and it is their first time to get out of group stages since the event was founded in 2009.
Jean-Florent Ibenge’s side will hope to repeat the success of seven years ago when they won the first CHAN tournament against Ghana in Côte d'Ivoire.
DR Congo made their intention very clear after convincing opening victories against Ethiopia and Angola, winning 3-0 and 4-2, respectively, in the group stage, but also lost to Cameroon in the final group game 3-1 which gave the Indomitable Lions top spot in Group B, with Les Léopards settling for second.
“This team is ready for the challenge; we will give our best in the final to see if we can win the title. People say we are favourites, but it was the same for every team at the start of the tournament. The final is going to be a tough match,” Ibenge said.
He added that, “We know Mali team is very talented, so we expect a tough game, but we will be doing everything to secure a win. The final is different from other matches. We have to be at our best level on Sunday. We have three days to rest and hopefully, we will be fine to deliver one more win.”
DR Congo reached the final after edging hosts Rwanda with an extra time 2-1 win in the quarter-final before beating Guinea on penalties 5-4 following a 1-1 draw in 120 minutes.
Meanwhile, Mali qualified as a group runner-up, despite registering only one victory in their three games in Group D.
In group stages Mali drew 2-2 against Uganda and won 1-0 over Zimbabwe before they played out a goalless draw against Zambia, hence advancing to the last eight unbeaten during qualification, behind Zambia.
However, Djibril Drame’s youthful side has since gone on to defeat two pre-tournament favourites-they beat Tunisia 2-1 in the quarter-final and Côte d'Ivoire 1-0 in the last four to reach on final.
“No one gave us a chance to reach here, but we have surprised everyone in this tournament. We know DR Congo are the favourites, but we don’t fear them. We will go and play our game on Sunday like we have done in all the previous matches,” Drame said after stunning Côte d'Ivoire on Thursday.
“Before the start of the tournament, we talked about taking it game by game, and here we are with only one game (the final) left. It is the biggest and the most important game of the tournament,” he added.
The Congolese and Malian supporters have also played a key role in the team’s success during the tournament.
Impressive Congo defender Padou Bompunga, who scored the winner against Rwanda, will miss the final after he was booked in the semi-final against Guinea.
In previous meetings, Mali have never lost to DR Congo. In the three meetings they have won two and drawn one match in all competitions.
The winner of CHAN 2016 between DR Congo and Mali will receive the trophy and $750,000 while the runner-up will earn $400,000. Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire will take home $250,000 each while each of the eight quarter-finalists including Rwanda, Tunisia, Zambia and Cameroon will receive $175,000.
Past CHAN winners:
2009 (Côte d'Ivoire) – DR Congo
2011 (Sudan) – Tunisia
2014 (South Africa) – Libya