Mali remain perennial dark horses

THE 2002 Nations Cup hosts Mali will again rank among the outsiders at this year's tournament in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.
Seydou Keita has rejoined The Eagles of Bamako after a 20-month absence. Net photo.
Seydou Keita has rejoined The Eagles of Bamako after a 20-month absence. Net photo.
THE 2002 Nations Cup hosts Mali will again rank among the outsiders at this year's tournament in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. After an indifferent start to their qualifying campaign, Mali fought back to win a group that included Cape Verde, Liberia and Zimbabwe. Les Aigles (The Eagles) of Mali are pitched in Group D in Franceville, Gabon, along with Ghana, Guinea and newcomers Botswana. Their best performance in this tournament was when they went all the way to the 1972 final, after which they have played in the semifinals on three different occasions, in 1994, 2002 and 2004. After they were eliminated at the group stage of the 2008 and 2010 tournaments, it would be something of a feat for this land-locked West Africa nation to reach the knockout stage of the competition. However, France-born Samba Diakite, who will make his Nations Cup bow in Gabon, has backed Mali to defy the record books. "The objective is to go as far as possible and why not win the cup," said Diakite. "We have got the team to do it. I believe in this team and, God willing, I hope things will go well." Frenchman Alain Giresse replaced Nigerian-born Stephen Keshi as coach soon after the 2010 edition of the continental tournament. The former France international midfielder is very much part of African football having worked for several years with Gabon. Former Real Madrid midfielder Mahamadou Diarra and ex-Liverpool Mohamed Sissoko are not included in the squad for this competition, while Spain-based striker Frederic Kanoute has quit international football. In Kanoute's absence, Mali will now look up to Sochaux striker Modibo Maiga and Cheick Tidiane Diabate for goals. Maiga is the more experienced of the two at this level, but Diabate has so far proved more prolific for his country. Giresse is rebuilding and has recently capped players like Ousmane Coulibaly (Brest), Idrissa Coulibaly (Esperance/Tunisia), Mohamed Fofana (Toulouse) and Sidi Kone (Lyon). These players all made the final squad cut. Barcelona ace Seydou Keita has rejoined The Eagles of Bamako after a 20-month absence. He was the driving force on home soil when the team reached the last four 10 years ago. Mali opened a training camp in Kabala before they moved to Lome, Togo, to finalise their build-up for the Nations Cup. Agencies

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