Venue: Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium, Port Elizabeth
Date & Time: January 24, 15H00 GMT
After failing to grab three full points from their opener against DR Congo, Ghana will seek to make atonement and assert their status as one of the favourites for the 2013 Afcon title on Thursday. But here comes Mali, who stopped the Black Stars from reaching the podium in the previous edition and the Eagles appear not to have used up that form following their commendable outing against Niger on Sunday. The meeting will likely keep its promise as one of the early crackers of the competition being that both sides are familiar adversaries and float both collective and individual play. Although Ghana have their back more to the wall and would come on with dogged determination to snatch a favourable outcome in a bid to avoid early exit, Mali would not want to miss the chance to seal their quarterfinal berth and hold off the Leopards challenge in their last group game.
The Malians are not hiding their cheerful mood ahead of the Ghana clash. Coach Patrice Carteron says his side will take on the Black Stars as they have prepared against any other team in the tournament. This tends to connote that the pressure will be lesser on them than Ghana, a situation that has mostly favoured the Eagles in recent times – remember their 2012 Afcon quarterfinal against co-hosts Gabon. Mali will let Ghana do much of the agitations in search of goals while sucking the pressure until they find the least opportunity to sting. The Black Stars’ poor liaison between the midfield and the rearguard cost them two goals against DR Congo, while Mali’s well-composed and enterprising midfield yielded their eventual winner despite Niger’s resistance.
West Ham striker Modibo Maiga will feature for Mali against Ghana after recovering from a thigh injury, according to team manager Amadou Cisse, while Lens midfielder Samba Sow will stay off the pitch like in the first match after failing to recover from an illness.
Mali captain Seydou Keita, who handed the Eagles their lone goal victory against the Mena, continues to be very vocal in his call for peace in the West African country where loyalists and French soldiers are battling Islamic forces in the north. The former Barcelona player has been distributing to fans T-shirts bearing the message – Peace in Mali, one People, one Goal, one Faith.
According to the vice president of Mali Football Federation Moussa Konate, the players have decided that a 40% cut should be made on their match bonuses as part of contribution to the efforts for peace in their country.
Ghana’s Anthony Annan will likely miss the game against Mali, according to the medical staff, after he failed to recover on time from a thigh injury.
Richmond Boakye-Yiadom remains doubtful for the clash as well. Both players have undergone Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) tests to determine the gravity of their situation, with Rabiu Mohammed or Derek Boateng likely to replace Annan in the midfield.
Asamoah Gyan vs Cheick Diabate: Asamoah Gyan could be a thorn in the flesh of the Malian defence being a target man capable of creating space and scoring goals no matter how much pressure defenders are putting on him. He specializes in ball control and has enough strength to hold off defenders, and can easily connect to long passes. Cheick Diabate is a goal poacher, whose 6 ft 4 height facilitates his mastery of aerial balls. He uses his dribbling skills and pace to beat his markers and can create opportunities for other attackers to score.
Agyemang Badu vs Seydou Keita: Agyemang Badu has strength to make strong tackles and stamina that allows his high work rate in the midfield. He also has passing skills that support other midfielders, and can make personal attempts at goal. Seydou Keita is Mali’s playmaker and the most experienced player of the outfit. He is a ball winner with tackling abilities and also good at heading, which contributes to stopping the opposing team's attacking play.
Mubarak Wakaso vs Adama Tamboura: Mubarak Wakaso is versatile and can sweep up incoming balls. He mostly relies on his strength, stamina and man marking abilities, while Adama Tamboura is a more tenacious defender that can police an attacker along the left flank and beyond. He has good shooting abilities and can deliver long passes.
Mali coach Patrice Carteron: “I know Ghana will be under pressure having lost two points from a game they could have won. They are used to this kind of pressure and we are ready for them. They are more exposed with an international record. I expect them to deploy an offensive approach in their quest to score an early goal.”
Ghana midfielder Mubarak Wakaso: “I know Seydou Keita, as I played against him during his days in Spain. He is a good player and very experienced. But, we are only concentrating on our game. I’m not thinking about the Mali team, rather I’m thinking of what I can do to help my team achieve victory.”
Ghana will attempt to dictate the proceedings as early as possible while Mali will endeavour to break the Black Stars’ incursions and will likely up their rhythm in second half but time will be ticking in favour of the Malians if the scoreline stays at draw, with Ghana still far from taking the lead.
Ghana 1-1 Mali