AFCON 2024 Preview: Bafana Bafana of South Africa opens AFCON account against injury-plagued Eagles of Mali

Posted : 16 January 2024

The Match Day 4 of the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) in Cote D'Ivoire will witness the 1996 winners, Bafana Bafana of South Africa, square up against the injury-plagued Eagles of Mali.


The battle between South Africa and the West African countries will take place at Amadou Gon Coulibaly Stadium in Korhogo, Cote D'Ivoire.


South Africa, in their quest for African glory, has not been a roller coaster since they won the championship on home soil back in 1996 when they defeated Tunisia in the finals thanks to Mark Williams' brace (73rd and 75th minutes) inside the 80,000 capacity FNB Stadium in Johannesburg.


The result of this second game of Group E between Bafana Bafana and Eagles will go a long way in shaping who will eventually get the ticket among the competing teams.

 

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The Eagles of Mali, though one of the regulars of the AFCON, have yet to win it, having 13 appearances so far and nine consecutive.


Having enjoyed a superb qualifying campaign, Mali shows after a 2006 blackout, as opposed to South Africa, which is making the 11th appearance in the biennial showpiece.


Mali, though having enjoyed a good run in the qualification for the AFCON, will have a different story to tell as some of the regulars are now nursing injuries. Only Nigeria scored more goals than Les Aigles during the qualifying phase (15) as they picked up.

 

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Mali en route to Cote D'Ivoire recorded astonishing five wins and lost just one of their six games, armed with 15 points and finished as Group G winners, opening a five-point gap over second-placed Gambia.


The Eric Chelle-tutored side will need to turn on when they face a tricky tie against a team well-known for inconsistent results depending on their mood, especially as the last two encounters against Bafana Bafana ended in a win for them.


Mali and South Africa clashed twice in the quarter-finals of AFCON, first in 2002 when they beat the Bafana Bafana 2-0 at the Venue Stade Abdoulaye Nakoro Cissoko and most recently in 2013 when they claimed a 3-1 win on penalties after a 1-1 draw in extra time.


However, with their back against the wall, Bafana Bafana of South Africa is making another attempt at AFCON after 2019, having failed to qualify for Egypt 2021.


After the 1996 win, the best performance of South Africa was way back in 2000 when they emerged as bronze medalists, but.


For Bafana Bafana, though they also enjoyed a decent qualifying campaign, picking up seven points from four matches to finish second in Group K, they were two points short behind the group winners Morocco.


Heading to the match against Mali, South Africa can only boast of one win in their last five matches across all competitions, losing once and claiming three draws, including a goalless draw against Lesotho in their final warm-up fixture.


While South Africa will be looking to begin their AFCON campaign on a high, they will have to show their mettle against a Mali side who have never lost an opening game in the competition, claiming seven wins and five draws since their debut in 1972.


Injury-hit Mali will have to cope without several key players, including the likes of Atalanta BC forward El Bilal Toure, Crystal Palace man Cheick Doucoure, and Southampton forward Moussa Djenepo.


Doucoure has been sidelined since having surgery on his Achilles tendon injury back in December, while Toure has been out of action since last August through a severe thigh injury.


Nonetheless, Chelle has named a solid squad for the AFCON finals, with the likes of skipper Hamari Traore, Salzburg forward Sekou Koita, and the midfield trio of Amadou Haidara, Diadie Samassekou, and Tottenham man Yves Bissouma headlining the team.


There are also a few new faces in Les Aigles' squad, including Saint-Etienne's Ibrahim Sissoko, Lorient forward Sirine Doucoure, and 28-year-old goalkeeper Aboubacar Doumbia.


As for South Africa, skipper Ronwen Williams is currently dealing with a slight knee problem, while Mamelodi Sundowns man Mothobi Mvala recently picked up a groin injury.


While both players are being monitored, they have traveled to Ivory Coast, alongside the 23-man squad featuring the likes of Themba Zwane, Sundowns midfielder Teboho Mokoena, and 29-year-old Percy Tau, who plays for Egyptian outfit Al-Ahly.


Now it's time for both countries that have yet to meet at the preliminary stage to test their strength; it is assured that the better team will win.

 

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