Mali and South Africa will kick off their African Cup of Nations campaign on Tuesday. Both teams will compete alongside Namibia and 2004 winner Tunisia for a spot in the knockout stages of the continental championship after being drawn into Group E.
Preview (Mali vs. South Africa)
Following an incredible qualifying campaign, Mali will play in their 13th Africa Cup of Nations. It is their ninth consecutive year since they were eliminated in 2006. Les Aigles finished as Group G victors with a five-point lead over second-place Gambia. They have won five of their six games and lost only one. Only Nigeria scored more goals (15) than Les Aigles during the qualifying campaign. Mali arrived in Ivory Coast as the country with the most AFCON games played (54). They have never won the competition. Their best result was finishing as runners-up in 1972 following a 3-2 loss to Congo.
The West African team, now sits second in Group I of the World Cup qualifiers. They enter Monday’s group opener having won six of their past seven games in all competitions. They have only drawn once since June 2023. Mali dominated Guinea-Bissau 6-2 at the Stade du 26 Mars two Saturdays ago in their warm-up friendly, putting on a show of the highest caliber. When they play South Africa, a team they have defeated in their last two AFCON encounters, Eric Chelle’s team will be counting on themselves to maintain that momentum and start the match in Ivory Coast on a positive note.
Both of their victories were in the quarterfinals. The most recent one occurred in 2013 when they won 3-1 on penalties following a 1-1 draw in extra time. The first happened in 2002 when they defeated Bafana Bafana 2-0 at the Venue Stade Abdoulaye Nakoro Cissoko. South Africa is participating in their 11th AFCON, their first since 2019, after missing out on a spot in Egypt. In 2019, Hugo Broos’s team achieved their joint-best result since finishing in third place in 2000. However, they lost 2-1 to rivals from West Africa, Nigeria.
Injury-prone Mali will have to live without numerous key players, including the likes of Atalanta forward El Bilal Toure, Crystal Palace man Cheick Doucoure, and Southampton forward Moussa Djenepo. Toure hasn’t played since August due to a serious thigh injury. Doucoure has been out since undergoing surgery in December for an Achilles tendon ailment. However, Chelle has selected a strong lineup for the AFCON finals, led by captain Hamari Traore, attacker Sekou Koita of Salzburg, and midfielders Madou Haidara, Diadie Samassekou, and Tottenham player Yves Bissouma.
Les Aigles’ roster also includes a few new players: Ibrahim Sissoko of Saint-Etienne, Sirin Doucoure of Lorient, and 28-year-old Abubacar Doumbia, goalkeeper. Regarding South Africa, Mothobi Mvala of Mamelodi Sundowns recently had a groin injury, and captain Ronwen Williams is currently dealing with a minor knee issue. Both players have traveled to Ivory Coast with the 23-man team, which also includes 29-year-old Percy Tau, Sundowns midfielder Teboho Mokoena, and Themba Zwane. However, both players are still under observation. With 42 appearances since his debut in October 2015, Tau, who plays for the Egyptian team Al-Ahly, is the most seasoned member of the Bafana Bafana team and has 15 goals on the international scene.
Mali 2-1 South Africa
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