Article: Michael Quaye
Mali’s main football team, The Eagles, provide little inspiration on account of their history in the Africa Cup of Nations. But with a team that assembles some of the biggest names in Africa currently coupled with their recent form, the Eagles alongside favourites Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire have succeeded in turning Group B into the Group of Death at Ghana 2008.
Indeed, Mali have nothing but their players and their form to count on when they open their campaign at the Essipon Stadium in Sekondi in a group that also features clearly written-off Benin.
Striker Frederic Kanoute of Spanish side Sevilla, once a player of the French Under-21 football team until a FIFA rule enabled him to opt to play for Mali, Liverpool’s midfielder Mohammed Sissoko, Real Madrid’s Mahamadou Diarra, Sevilla’s brilliant player, Seydou Keita, LB Chateauroux’s Djibril Sidibe and Lokomotiv Moscow forward, Dramane Traore, are experienced players with the temperament for any high-profile game.
It is on their shoulders and those of their colleagues in the 23-man squad, including three home-based players, that the West African nation’s hopes rest for what is expected to be their biggest chance at winning the Nations Cup, although the group opposition remains as formidable as ever.
In their campaign in Ghana 2008, the band of youthful players, averaging about 25 years, will attempt to rewrite the history that has seen their previous adventures go no farther than fourth place in 1994 in Tunisia, 2002 on home soil and 2004, also in Tunisia, since they chalked up their biggest mark in the Nations Cup history in 1972.
Indeed, while emphasising that Mali once came second in Cameroun in 1972, losing the final 3-2 in Yaounde to Congo, that performance was a one-off thing that has failed to give them the desired recognition.
It is rather interesting that the four times that The Eagles either emerged runners-up or finished in fourth place were the only times that Mali ever qualified for the Nations Cup.
If current form is a yardstick, then their third time triumph at the Amilcar Cabral Cup — a tournament held by some countries in honour of the former nationalist who fought in Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde — last year makes them serious contenders for the trophy in Ghana. Indeed, they confirmed their recent strength in their final qualifier when they beat Togo against all odds in Lome to reach Ghana 2008 at the expense of the 2006 World Cup participants.
Perhaps the Nations Cup will not elude them once again!