February 6, 2013
Mali repeated their performance from exactly one year back when they knocked out South Africa in the quarter-finals of AFCON 2013 via a penalty shoot-out. In 2012, Gabon faced the same ignominy, coincidentally at the same stage of the tournament. However, last year they failed to clinch the trophy, an outcome they would like to change this time around. Oddly though, both Gabon and South Africa were hosts during the respective years!
The match was one of the best ever in this year’s AFCON and both the teams gave everything in their quest for glory. However, unfortunately, in football like in life, there can be only one winner and as fate would have it, it turned out to be Mali. South Africa started the match strongly and dominated procession for much of the first half. Relying on speed and skill, South Africa drew first blood. However, Mali were not to be outdone. Their continued efforts finally bore fruit when captain Keita scored the equalizer in the second half. Mali’s insistence on brute force was countered by the skillful displays of the South Africans. In the end, it took the dreaded penalty shoot-out to separate the two teams. While Mali scored from every one of their kicks, Diakite blocked two while the third was shot high. Mali’s persistence paid off finally and they were rewarded with a spot in this year’s AFCON semi-finals.
Seydou Keita has been the leading light for Mali so far in this tournament. The captain has led from the front on all of the matches and has scored two goals till now. Possessing an excellent passing ability coupled with his eye in finding short passes has been instrumental for Mali’s game. Weakened by internal troubles, the national team has given them some reasons to cheer about.
Mali has relied on brute force so far to progress in this competition and they find it difficult to play against teams possessing flair. They will look to field a 4-5-1 formation with a lone striker on top and look to dominate midfield. Mali are sometimes susceptible when faced with fast counter attacking teams so they might engage in a physical encounter to stop those. However, they need to exercise caution since many of their players are already on a caution.
Possible Starting XI (4-5-1): Soumaila Diakite(GK); Fousseni Diawara, Adama Tamboura, Adama Coulibaly, Molla Wague; Mohamed Sissoko, Seydou Keita, Samba Sow, Samba Diakité, Modibo Maíga; Mamadou Samassa
Nigeria started their campaign from a tough group but eventually emerged unscathed with one victory and two draws in their group stage matches. They caused the biggest upsets in this year’s AFCON when they knocked out pre-tournament favorites Ivory Coast in the quarter-finals.
Billed as one of the biggest clashes of AFCON 2013, Ivory Coast was expected to win and progress. However, Nigeria had other intentions. Didier Drogba, the inspirational leader on so many occasions failed to lead the team from the front and throughout the match looked like a pale shadow of the striker he once was. It is uncertain whether he will feature again for Ivory Coast, but from the looks of it, it might be curtains for the ex-Chelsea hero. Nigeria went ahead with a bullet free-kick from Emenike in the first half, after probing the Ivory Coast goal for quite some time. Victor Moses was a threat throughout the match and his pace and movement troubled the Ivory Coast back-line. Drogba did have his hand in the only goal scored by Ivory Coast as his free-kick was headed home by Tiote. Yaya Toure tried his luck at increasing the lead but his efforts proved to be in vain. The end came when Mba ran at the back-line and shot at goal. Although the ball was deflected, it ended up at the back of the end thereby eliminating Ivory Coast.
Emenike has been the star so far for Nigeria, having scored 3 goals so far. He is closely followed by Chelsea wing-man Victor Moses, who has notched up 2 goals – both from penalties. John Obi Mikel has been a key fixture in the Nigerian line-up and he has performed reasonably well although he did miss a key penalty in the group stage match against holders Zambia.
Nigeria will look to field a 4-3-3 formation with three strikers in the starting line-up. Having defeated Ivory Coast, Nigeria looks to be the bookmaker’s favorites to go all the way and lift the coveted trophy.
Possible Starting XI (4-3-3): Vincent Enyeama(GK); Elderson, Efe Ambrose, Godfrey Obobona, Kenneth Omeruo; Brown Ideye, John Mikel Obi, Ogenyi Onazi; Emmanuel Emenike, Victor Moses, Sunday Mbah
Mali 1-2 Nigeria
After overcoming Ivory Coast in the quarter-finals, Nigeria are over-whelming favorites to clinch the trophy this time. Should they progress, they might face off against Ghana for the title. Mali, on the other hand must rely less on brute force and also exercise caution on bookings. It will be an interesting encounter with both teams likely to progress, but with the attacking line at Nigeria’s disposal, the result might tilt in their favor.