War-torn Mali eyes African glory against Nigeria
DURBAN, South Africa - Agence France-Presse
Led by former Barcelona midfielder Seydou Keita (L), Mali has emerged as the most interesting team of the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations. AFP PhotoFrench coach Patrice Carteron says Mali will continue to dream of glory as it prepares to confront Ivory Coast or Nigeria for an Africa Cup of Nations final place.
The Eagles ruined the party for the second consecutive tournament when they eliminated hosts South Africa 3-1 on penalties after a tense, tight quarterfinal finished 1-1 after extra time in Durban last week.
A year ago almost to the day, Mali dumped co-hosts Gabon out of 2012 Africa Cup in identical fashion, winning on penalties after coming from behind during regular time to force a 1-1 draw.
While the team was in Gabon there was a military coup in Bamako and as they took on South Africa, Malian troops supported by forces from France and other African states had Islamist extremists on the run.
The militants, who banned citizens in centers like historical Timbuktu from watching football on TV during a 10-month reign of terror, had seized control of the vast morthern region and were closing on Bamako until France intervened.
Mali finished third a year ago under 1980s France star Alain Giresse and younger compatriot and former Sunderland defender Carteron has taken the baton and impressed in his first major coaching challenge.
“We do not know what lies ahead but we know that we are involved in the semi-finals of the Africa Cup,” said Carteron. “Who knows? The squad are allowed to dream of winning and playing in the final.”
Nigeria hopes to extend an unbeaten run over fellow West Africans for the chance to play in the final.
Several months ago, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan charged the Super Eagles to reach the Nations Cup final as he wishes to watch them play in Johannesburg to kick off the country’s celebrations of 150 years as a nation.
After a labored group-phase campaign, the Super Eagles defied the odds last week to beat title favorite Ivory Coast 2-1 and set up an early-evening showdown against the Malian Eagles at Moses Mabhida Stadium in this port city.
The two countries have clashed at full international level six times with four of those matches at the Nations Cup. Nigeria won three and the others have been drawn.
The last meeting of the Super Eagles and the Eagles was at the 2008 African tournament in Ghana and finished goalless.
Nigeria striker Emmanuel Emenike insists they have put behind them the shock 2-1 quarter-finals triumph over Ivory Coast and are focused on beating Mali because the target is to be crowned African champions a third time. “We want to win the trophy and won’t get carried away because we beat the Ivory Coast as we still have two more games to win before we can be crowned champions,” said the Spartak Moscow striker, who has netted three times.
Young Nigerian defender Kenneth Omeruo said he does not expect an easy game against Mali, who have been in Durban for more than a week and will be better rested as they played their quarter-final a day before the Super Eagles.
“It will be a tough game, but we hope to come out victorious. We are focused on it and I believe we will zoom into the final,” Omeruo said.